Pope Francis arrived in Israel and implored its leaders to leave no stone unturned in their quest for peace
"The two-state solution must become a reality. The right of the State of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders must be universally recognized. At the same time, there must also be recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement. I implore those in positions of responsibility to leave no stone unturned in the search for equitable solutions to complex problems, so that Israelis and Palestinians may live in peace."
Those were the words Pope Francis said to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres at the welcoming ceremony after landing at Ben Gurion Airport. The Pope also made reference to acts of anti-Semitism and racism, "Let us promote an education in which exclusion and confrontation give way to inclusion and encounter, where there will be no place for anti-Semitism in any of its forms or for expressions of hostility, discrimination or intolerance towards any individual or people."
He concluded his remarks by inviting President Shimon Peres to come to the Vatican with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to pray with him for peace. "I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer," said the Pope. "So many people suffer every single day and wait patiently for peace."
President Shimon Peres was the first to welcome the Pope. "On behalf of the Jewish people and in the name of all the people of Israel, I welcome you with the age old words from the Book of Psalms: 'Welcome in the name of the Lord.' Welcome at the gates of Jerusalem.
"You have arrived in the State of Israel where today members of different religions and nationalities live together – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druse and Circassians. Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, where coexistence in peace is implemented, and a state that aspires for peace with all its neighbors," said the President. "Even if peace calls for sacrifices, the sacrifices of peace are preferable to the threat of war..."
The President praised his friend the Pope, "We all welcome you warmly and with great respect. You bring with you great tidings and hope for all. You carry a message of brotherhood among peoples, and friendship for all. Nothing enriches more than love of humanity."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Pope for instilling a spirit of love for humanity since beginning his service as Pope last year. "We know that when you light the eternal flame at Yad Vashem in memory of the one-third of our people who were murdered in the Holocaust, it will be another expression of your belief that anti-Semitism is a crime against God and against humanity, as was the heinous anti-Semitic crime perpetrated yesterday on European soil.
Following the reception, the Pope left for Jerusalem, where he participated in a ceremony on the Mount of Olives with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. He then continued to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Today, the Pope will visit the Western Wall and then will become the first Pope ever to lay a wreath at the grave of Zionist visionary at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. The Pope will also visit Yad Vashem and participate in a ceremony to rekindle the Eternal Flame in the Hall of Remembrance and meet with six Holocaust survivors.
The Pope will further hold political meetings with the Prime Minister and President of Israel. The official central reception will begin as the President and Pope walk up to the dais, with the participation of hundreds of teens, children, Christians, Muslims and Jews who represent the human mosaic from which Israeli society is woven, heads of Jewish, Muslim and Christian groups, ambassadors and Israel's top leadership. On this occasion, the Pope and President will give special addresses, broadcast live to the faithful around the world in Hebrew and Italian, and they will participate in a special prayer on behalf of peace and brotherhood.