Pope Francis was only in Israel for a short stopover but the pontiff’s first official visit to the Holy Land left great impressions. The pope bowed his head for a number of poignant photo opportunities at some of Israel’s most sacred sites.
He put a note with the ‘Our Father’ prayer between the cracks of the Western Wall (Kotel); he bowed his head at the Mount Herzl memorial to victims of terrorist attacks; he kissed the hands of six Holocaust survivors at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial; he visited Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center; and he was the first pope to lay a wreath on the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Pope Francis at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center in an attempt to heal the historical rift between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.
“We have hundreds of churches here in the Land of Israel, in Nazareth, Capernaum, Korazim – and we maintain each one, not one stone has been moved. We maintain the rights of Christians in the State of Israel. To my sorrow, this is not the case in many places in the Middle East. We respect Your Holiness’s approach on religious tolerance; Israel maintains this tolerance,” Netanyahu said.
At Yad Vashem, Pope Francis called for promoting education for human values, and for building a world without antisemitism in all its forms, and without expressions of hostility, discrimination and intolerance.
The pope signed the Yad Vashem Guest Book in Spanish, writing: “With shame for what man, who was created in the image of God, was able to do; with shame for the fact that man made himself the owner of evil; with shame that man made himself into God and sacrificed his brothers. Never again!! Never again!! Francis 5.26.2014.”
“Every single gesture on this trip has some significance,” Jeffrey Woolf, a scholar of Christian-Jewish relations at Bar Ilan University, told TIME magazine. “All these actions are very loaded. He crammed a lot of meaning into a few hours.”