(JERUSALEM) — Francis deviated from his whirlwind itinerary to visit a memorial to Israeli victims of terrorism, giving Israel his full attention a day after voicing strong solidarity for the Palestinian cause.
At the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Francis prayed before a crypt with ashes of victims and laid a wreath of yellow and white flowers in the “Hall of Remembrance.”
And then one by one, he kissed the hands of a half-dozen Holocaust survivors as he heard their stories and of loved ones killed by the Nazis during World War II.
“Never again, Lord, never again!” Francis said. “Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man — created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing.”
Earlier, Francis prayed at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, and left a note with the text of the “Our Father” prayer written in his native Spanish in one of the cracks between the stones.
He then embraced his good friend, Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, and a leader of Argentina’s Muslim community, Omar Abboud, both of whom joined his official delegation for the trip in a sign of interfaith friendship.
Francis’ whirlwind trip has been marked by his surprise invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican next month to pray for peace. Both men accepted, and Francis was to meet with the outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres later Monday.
Francis started the day by taking off his shoes to enter the Dome of the Rock, the iconic shrine located at the third-holiest spot in Islam. The gold-topped dome enshrines the rock where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven.
The mosque complex, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, is at the heart of the territorial and religious disputes between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Speaking to the grand mufti of Jerusalem and other Muslim authorities, Francis deviated from his prepared remarks to refer not just to his “dear friends” but “dear brothers.”
“May we respect and love one another as brothers and sisters!” he said. “May we learn to understand the suffering of others! May no one abuse the name of God through violence!”
The pope appeared to be holding up well despite the intense, back-to-back schedule that took him from the Dome of the Rock to the Western Wall, to Mount Herzl, the Israeli national cemetery named for the father of modern Zionism, and Yad Vashem. There will also be meetings with the chief rabbis of Israel, the Israeli president and prime minister, local priests and finally, Mass in the Room of the Last Supper, where Catholics believe Jesus shared his final meal with his disciples before being crucified.