President Shimon Peres landed in Rome on Sunday morning hours before he is scheduled to take part in Pope Francis’ historic interfaith prayer session with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican.
“I have come to the Vatican from the State of Israel together with the representatives of the main monotheistic religions in Israel for an extraordinary event for peace,” Peres said after landing. “This spiritual call is very important and influential, since the conflict [in the Middle East] is one that is of both a political and a religious nature.”
“Religious leaders exert influence all over the world, and tonight we will emphasize the State of Israel’s desire for peace,” the president said. “I hope that this event will contribute to advancing peace between the parties and throughout the entire world.”
In a special ceremony, clerics from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity will read passages from their respective holy books.
Peres left for Rome on Sunday morning to participate in the prayer for peace in the Middle East. The event will be attended by Pope Francis, Abbas, Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and spiritual representatives of the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druse faiths.
Peres traveled to Rome without the Palestinian leader, who is due to arrive from Egypt later in the day.
At the behest of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Peres asked that the prayer ceremony be held in a neutral part of the Vatican, and not in a chapel, so as not to violate Jewish religious dictates that forbid Jews to pray in a church.
The participants are to meet with the pope prior to joining in the prayer for peace, which is to take place in the garden of the Vatican.
The prayer session has been divided into sections for each faith, in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders are to read verses relating to peace from the Bible, the New Testament and the Koran.
Following the readings, Francis, Peres and Abbas are to read verses that each has personally chosen.
The ceremony is set to be screened on television in Israel at 8 p.m. on Sunday.
The Vatican is preparing to provide a live feed of the event to billions of people of faith across the world.
Peres, who is to head a delegation of rabbis and Druse spiritual leaders, has received a blessing from Yosef for the success of his mission.
While in the garden of the Vatican, Peres is expected to issue a call to leaders of all faiths to ask their followers to condemn terrorism and to do all in their power to eradicate it.
Peres will also meet with Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano and Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini.