Pope Francis embarked on his historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land on May 25-26, 2014. The main purpose of his visit was to commemorate the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, which took place 50 years earlier.
Throughout his pilgrimage, the Pope conveyed messages of fraternity, mutual respect and tolerance, calling on all people to “Invoke from God the gift of peace.” During the welcome ceremony upon his arrival, the Pope told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres that he implored people in positions of responsibility “to leave no stone unturned” in their quest for peace.
Shortly after his arrival, the Pope held a private meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I at the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem, after which they signed a joint declaration. This was followed by an ecumenical meeting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.
During his pilgrimage of prayer, Pope Francis visited many of the most sacred sites and meaningful landmarks in and around the holy city of Jerusalem, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Via Dolorosa, Mount of Olives, Mount Zion and the Cenacle, the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame Center, Yad Vashem, Mount Herzl, Heichal Shlomo, the Garden of Gethsemane and Church of All Nations, and the Western Wall.
On the second day of his two-day tour, the Pope demonstrated his commitment to improving interfaith relations and spreading his message of peace. Pope Francis met with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein and visited the Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third-holiest site. His Holiness then visited the Western Wall, one of the most sacred sites in Judaism, where he followed an age-old tradition and placed a written supplication between the stones.
To further highlight the importance of humanity and tolerance, Pope Francis visited Yad Vashem to pay his respects to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, even kissing their hands. The Pontiff then made a courtesy visit to the two chief rabbis of Israel, recalling the Jewish roots of Christianity and saying that the bond between the two faiths is unbreakable despite past difficulties. Pope Francis then held private audiences with both the President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was also the first Pope to ever lay a wreath at the grave of Zionist visionary, Theodor Herzl at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Other highlights of the Pope’s visit included his visit to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he met priests and clergy, and led a prayer at the Church of All Nations. While there, the Holy Father planted an olive tree sapling, a symbol of peace, just several meters away from the tree planted by Pope Paul VI. Extending the spiritual reach of his pilgrimage, Pope Francis also celebrated Mass at the Cenacle, the traditional place of the Last Supper.