Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas joined Pope Francis Sunday at the Vatican in an unprecedented prayer convocation for peace in the Middle East.
The Argentine pontiff invited the two leaders last month, weeks after the latest round of Mideast peace talks collapsed. He said he hoped Sunday's meeting would bring a "new journey" toward peace.
"Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity," said Francis.
The three leaders, joined by the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, heard Christian, Jewish and Islamic prayers from cardinals, rabbis and Muslim imams. The two-hour meeting in the Vatican gardens included prayers from the Old and New Testaments and the Quran that were read and chanted in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Italian.
The Argentine pontiff later told Abbas and Peres that "peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare." He defined courage as "the willingness to say 'yes' to encounter and 'no' to conflict."
The pope issued the surprise invitation to the two leaders last month, just weeks after the collapse of the latest round of Mideast peace talks.
In the run-up to the historic gathering, the Vatican sought to dampen expectations that the convocation would lead to any immediate breakthroughs in in the stalemated peace process.
Vatican leaders also insisted the pope was not injecting himself into the peace process. They said the Church did not want to become involved in details leading to any future Israeli-Palestinian talks.