Jerusalem – Pope Francis continues his three-day visit to the Holy Land, travelling across Jerusalem on a whirlwind tour of religious and political sites.
The pontiff started the morning on Monday at Al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, where he met the grand mufti of Jerusalem.
Pope Francis urged members of the three monotheistic faiths, “all communities who look to Abraham”, not to “abuse the name of God through violence”.
“Peace in this land will not happen until the end of the [Israeli] occupation, and when people get their freedom and full rights,” Mufti Muhammad Hussein said.
The pope then moved to the Western Wall, the remains of the biblical Second Temple and the holiest site at which Jews are permitted to pray.
He followed tradition and left a written prayer inside the cracks of the wall, reportedly the text of the Lord’s Prayer written in his native Spanish.
Pope Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, left a prayer calling for peace in the region.
From there the pope went to lay a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, and to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, where he kissed the hands of six Holocaust survivors.
“A great evil has befallen us, as such that has never occurred,” the pope said in a speech. “Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what men have done.”
The hasty tour provided an eerily sterile contrast with Sunday’s colourful mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square.
Jerusalem’s streets and holy places had been cleared for the pontiff, and he shuttled from place to place in a black 4WD vehicle. There were no encounters with pilgrims or residents of the city.
He made an unexpected stop at a memorial for terror victims on Mount Herzl.
The schedule change was requested by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, possibly a response to Pope Francis’s unplanned prayer on Sunday at the Separation Wall between Israel and the West Bank, a dramatic moment which provided perhaps the defining images of his trip.
“I explained to the pope that the construction of the security fence prevented many more victims of Palestinian terror,” Netanyahu said in a statement released shortly after the visit, using the preferred Israeli term for the separation wall.
The pope will on Monday afternoon meet Netanyahu and the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, before holding a mass with church leaders and then departing for Italy.