Pope Francis met with Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem Sunday, in a historic meeting that saw Abbas accuse Israel of "Judaizing" Jerusalem.
During the meeting, Abbas insisted that Israel is "systematically acting to change [Jerusalem's] identity and character, and strangling the Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, with the aim of pushing them out."
Earlier, Pope Francis addressed what he called "the State of Palestine," according to Ma'an, calling Abbas "a man of peace." In his speech, he called for a two-state solution and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict, which he deemed "unacceptable."
"The time has come for everyone to find the courage... to forge a peace which rests on the acknowledgement by all of the right of two states to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders," he urged.
The pope also paused for several moments in front of a graffiti on the security wall in Bethlehem, bowing his head in prayer in front of a message proclaiming, "Pope we need to see someone to speak about justice. Bethlehem look like Warsaw ghetto. Free Palestine."
Pope Francis invited both Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres on Sunday to his home in the Vatican for a "heartfelt prayer" for peace.
"I wish to invite you, president Mahmud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace," he said at the end of an open-air mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem.
"I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer," he said. "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."
According to the Washington Post, both Peres and Abbas accepted the invite Sunday afternoon.
Political or apolitical?
Although Francis himself has said it will be a "purely religious trip," both Israel and the PA will be looking to use the visit to score a few political points.
The Vatican said the main reason for the visit was a meeting in Jerusalem with Bartholomew I, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, seeking to heal a nearly 1,000-year rift between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
But ahead of the trip, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin defended the Palestinian Arabs' right to a "sovereign and independent" homeland and said he hoped Francis's visit would lead to "courageous decisions" for peace.
Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a member of the Argentinian parliament and close friend of Pope Francis, reported in February that the pope intends to define himself as the "Che Guevera of the Palestinians" and support their "struggle and rights" during his visit.
It has been noted that the pope has been remarkably tight-lipped over the violent persecution of Christians in Bethlehem, instead choosing to condemn alleged Jewish "price tag" vandalism.