The Vatican denied Monday that Pope Francis's Middle East trip has been driven by a political agenda, AFP reports Monday.
Francis "has no political agenda" and his unscheduled visits to the Judea and Samaria security fence and to a memorial for Israeli civilians killed in terrorist attacks were "gestures" which "rounded out his official program," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
On Sunday, Francis made an unplanned stop by the separation barrier, climbing out of his open jeep to pray, his forehead and hand resting against the wall, in a powerful show of support for Palestinian Arabs.The gesture profoundly angered Israelis, who noted immediately that the wall has saved countless Jewish lives from Palestinian Arab terror.
His unscheduled stop Monday at national cemetery on Mount Herzl took place at the personal request of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to "balance" his trip, Lombardi said.
"I was not surprised to hear negative reactions in Israel over the pope's decision to stop and pray in front of the separation barrier," Lombardi said. "The pope did not know about the (Israeli) memorial, and added it when it was possible."
The pope was winding up a packed trip which saw him issue a unique invitation to Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to pray with him at the Vatican to end their "increasingly unacceptable" conflict. Both accepted the invitation.
'No political agenda'?
Although Francis himself stated that the visit is a "purely religious trip," the Vatican - and the Pope himself - has made several questionable statements over the visit.
Sunday, 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 Vatican itself also used select terminology for the proceedings, titling the events on YouTube with specific - and differing - terminology, as demonstrated below.
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 also 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.