#AceNewsServices – BETHLEHEM – May 25 – updated 15:34
By Laura Smith-Spark, Ivan Watson and Delia
Bethlehem, West Bank (CNN) – Pope Francis extended an invitation Sunday to the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to travel to the Vatican for a “peace initiative,” after earlier calling for a two-state solution to the intractable conflict.
The pontiff’s remarks came at the end of an outdoor Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square on the second day of his three-day trip to the Middle East.
“In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with Israeli President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace,” Francis said.
“I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer.”
He added, “Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment. The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace.”
The Palestinian side has accepted the invitation and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will go to the Vatican, a Palestinian Legislative Council member, Hanan Ashrawi, told CNN.
The Israeli President’s office said that he welcomed the invitation. “President Peres has always supported, and will continue to support, any attempts to progress the cause of peace,” his office said.
Pope Francis then traveled on to Tel Aviv, where in remarks on the airport tarmac to Peres and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he again issued an invitation to pray for peace at the Vatican. He also reiterated the Vatican’s support for Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.