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Pope Francis has rounded off his intensive three-day trip to the Middle East by celebrating Mass in the Upper Room, the site of the Last Supper on Mount Zion.
With a heavy police presence in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Mass passed without disturbance following a week of sporadic protests and arrests around the Cenacle.
The room is adjacent to the Tomb of David, where Jewish extremists have been expressing apparently unfounded fears that Israel will hand the building over to the Church.
In his homily, Pope Francis thanked God for allowing them to worship at the place where the Church was born.
“From here the Church goes forth, impelled by the life-giving breath of the Spirit,” he said. “Gathered in prayer with the Mother of Jesus, the Church lives in constant expectation of a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth.”
Earlier, the Pope meditated on the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday during a discourse before priests, religious and seminarians in the Church of All Nations on the Mount of Olives.
The gathering followed a day of perceived political wrangling over his unscheduled prayer at the security barrier in Bethlehem and, at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a subsequent stop over at a memorial for victims of terrorism in West Jerusalem.
Francis was officially received by President Peres earlier, who praised the Pope’s calls for peace. “Peace is a matter of imagination and inspiration,” he said. “You bear imagination and inspiration, and we need them. Thank you for this.”
Pope Francis replied by praising President Peres as a wise man of peace: “With my imagination and inspiration I would like to invent a new ‘beatitude,’ which fits to me in this very moment: blessed he who enters in the house of a wise and good man. I feel blessed.”
President Peres and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas have accepted an invitation to the Vatican next month, made unexpectedly by Pope Francis in Bethlehem yesterday. The Church is playing down the political significance of what is officially a prayer meeting, but there are hopes that it could help revive the dormant peace process after talks between the two sides were ended by Mr Netanyahu following a pact between President Abbas and Hamas.
This morning, the Pope visited the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, where he embraced Omar Abboud and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, his Muslim and Jewish friends from Buenos Aires, before an emotional encounter with Holocaust survivors at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.
The Pope will receive an official farewell from Israel at Ben Gurion airport tonight, before flying back to Rome.
Above: Pope Francis at Yad Vashem memorial and Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photos: CNS photo/ OSSERVATORE ROMANO handout, EPACNS photo/Paul Haring