Pope Francis wrapped up his visit to the Middle East by making final stops in Bethlehem and Israel on Sunday and Monday, paying a special surprise visit to the Wall of Bethlehem that separates Israel from the West Bank and offering quick prayer while at the wall.
Francis reportedly stopped at the wall for four minutes, leaning his head in to touch the stone on the wall next to a graffiti message that read "Free Palestine." He also placed his hand on the wall to pray during the unexpected stop.
The wall, also known as the Israeli West Bank barrier, was built by Israel to separate itself from the West Bank and the Palestinian population. Father Federico Lombardi, a spokesperson for the Vatican, told The Guardian that even members of Francis' own entourage were unaware that the Pope would make his stop at the separation wall. more >>
To bridge rifts between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, Pope Francis met and prayed together with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I at the 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday.
Francis and Bartholomew embraced one another in the church's stone courtyard and recited the "Our Father" prayer together in the relatively neutral Italian after entering the church, according to The Associated Press.
The two leaders helped one another down the stone steps leading into the church, holding one another's forearms. Francis also bent down and kissed the hand of Bartholomew after the remarks by the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians. more >>
Pope Francis warned at the Vatican on Wednesday that if humans destroy God's "greatest gift," which is creation itself, it will in turn destroy them.
"He urged people to nurture and safeguard Creation as God's greatest gift to us, because while God always forgives, Creation never forgives and – he warned – if we destroy Creation, in the end it will destroy us," The Vatican Radio reported on Francis' remarks.
The Vatican leader also reflected that the "gift of knowledge" should steer people away from wrong attitudes, such as "considering ourselves masters of Creation. Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude." more >>
A group of Italian women who are in love affairs with Roman Catholic Church priests have asked Pope Francis to make the celibacy mandate for clergy optional.
Twenty six women recently wrote to the Pontiff, their letter being published on the website of the Catholic publication the Vatican Insider. "With humility, we place at your feet our suffering so that something can change, not just for us but for the good of the whole Church," reads the letter in part.
The women also stated that the celibacy mandate for priests caused "devastating suffering" within the Church and that married priests would serve "with greater passion." more >>
Pope Francis said that people cannot be Christians without the Church, explaining that Christian identity is rooted in it and that believers cannot stand alone.
"Our Christian identity is belonging to a people: the Church. Without this, we are not Christians. We entered the Church through baptism: there we are Christians," Francis said during Mass on Thursday, Vatican Radio reported.
"A Christian without a church is something purely idealistic, it is not real," the Roman Catholic Church leader argued. more >>
Orthodox Jews gathered at the site of the Christian Last Supper near Jerusalem on Monday ahead of a visit by Pope Francis, arguing that allowing Christians to worship at the site violates their beliefs.
Pope Francis is expected to hold a mass at the Last Supper site, known as the "Upper Room" on Mount Zion, when he visits Jerusalem from May 24-26. About 200 ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered near the site on Monday to protest Francis' planned mass, arguing that allowing the Vatican to hold a Catholic mass there denigrates the Jewish religion. Jews regard the site as being the Tomb of King David, as well as the site of a 16th Century mosque.