Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew (rear) walks with Pope Francis outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City May 25, 2014. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Pope Francis arrived on Sunday evening at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where he was scheduled to meet with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I.
The pope arrived in Israel Sunday afternoon at Ben-Gurion Airport and called for the rights of Palestinians to a sovereign homeland to be recognized, while reiterating Israel's right to exist in peace.
A full guard of honor was prepared for the pontiff, who arrived by helicopter from Bethlehem, where he had made a stop at the security barrier to pray for peace.
The pope was greeted by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and numerous political and religious dignitaries.
In his address, he said that although the meaning of Jerusalem was the city of peace, it was still troubled by conflict and spoke of the "urgency" of the need for peace in Israel and the wider region.
The efforts invested to arrive at a just and sustainable arrangement to conflicts that caused such great suffering are growing and increasing.
"In unity with all those of good will, I urge on everyone who bears the responsibility not to stop for a moment in the search for fair solutions to the complicated problems in order that Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace," Pope Francis said.
"We must always go out in courage and without tiredness to the path of dialogue peace and reconciliation. There is no other way," he continued.
"Therefore I renew the call of Benedict XVI in this place: the right of of existence for the State of Israel to be recognized universally, the right to live in peace and security in recognized borders by the international community.
"At the same time, the rights of the Palestinians to a sovereign homeland, to life with dignity and freedom of movement should be recognized. We hope that the two state solutions will become reality and will not remain a dream."
The pontiff went on to condemn the Holocaust as a symbol of the "depths to which man's evil can reach," and said that it was brought about by "a false ideology which forgot the basic dignity of all men, who are entitled to complete respect, without connection to their national origins or religious faith."
He also extended greetings to Israel's Christian community in Nazareth and the Galilee and said that the brevity of his visit made it impossible for him to visit them.
Netanyahu hailed the pope's visit as an "important chapter in the history between Jews and Christians."
"I praise the good relations the Holy See and the Jews know in our times," Netanyahu said.
"In the heart of the turbulent and violent Middle East, Israel is an island of tolerance," Netanyahu told the pontiff.
Peres said in welcoming the pontiff that Israel's hand "is stretched out in peace and will continue to be stretched out in peace, and we shall seek the right path to achieve it."
The president touted Israel's respect for freedom of religion, vowing not to "allow anyone to violate this commitment."
Peres praised Pope Francis, saying "You have brought to the Holy See a noble and natural humility. Deep identification with the poor, the oppressed and destitute. A profound sense that the task of man is to mend the world – tikkun olam – and engage in scientific activities for which the sanctity of life are their supreme value."
The president said that Pope Francis has his personal gratitude, as well as that of the Israeli people "for your warm and loving attitude to the Jewish people, which I have always observed, and which the Church you head called 'my older brothers.' Your Holiness, our brother you are."
He is the fourth pontiff to visit Israel but will be the first to lay a wreath a the grave of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl.
Peres is to be among those who accompany the pontiff when he lays a wreath on Herzl’s tomb.
Earlier Sunday, the pope visited Bethlehem
where he made an impassioned plea for peace at the traditional birthplace of Jesus, urging an intensified effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Pope Francis arrived in Bethlehem by helicopter from Jordan
on Sunday morning on the second day of his visit to the Middle East.
The pontiff met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
While in the town traditionally known as the birthplace of Jesus, the head of the Roman Catholic Church conducted a public mass service in Manger Square before visiting the Church of the Nativity and the Dehaishe Palestinian refugee camp.