During an inflight news conference on his return to Rome from the Holy Land yesterday, Pope Francis answered several questions about his just-ended three-day visit, giving reporters insights into his thinking and glimpses behind the scenes of the high-profile events.
Regarding his dramatic gestures during the visit, when he prayed at the controversial Israeli-built separation barrier in the West Bank and kissed the hands of Holocaust survivors, the Pope said the “most authentic gestures are those you don’t think about… mine were not planned gestures, it just occurs to me to do something spontaneously that way.”
The Pope said he had considered inviting Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to pray with him for peace during the visit, but “there were so many logistical problems, so many, the territory where it should happen, it wasn’t easy.” Instead, he invited the two leaders to join him later at the Vatican for the purpose. Both have accepted, but a date for the event has not been set.
On the status of Jerusalem, which Israel has controversially declared its “complete and united capital,” the Pope suggested part of the city might serve as capital for Palestinians under an eventual two-state solution, but that in any case it should be a “city of peace” for Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Asked about his meeting in Jerusalem with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the Pope said they discussed what he called the “ridiculous” problem of Catholic and Orthodox churches celebrating Easter on different dates, and the possibility of common efforts by the churches to protect the natural environment.
The Pope’s meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew, marking the 50th anniversary of a historic encounter between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, was the original reason for Pope Francis’ densely packed pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The two leaders met a total of four times during the visit, participating in an ecumenical prayer service at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and issuing a common declaration calling for “communion in legitimate diversity” between their churches.
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