Pope Francis says almost all Vatican officials opposed Mideast prayer at first

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Friday, June 13 2014 11:32 a.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, June 13 2014 11:32 a.m. MDT

Pope Francis touches a woman's hand as he is driven through the crowd during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 11, 2014.

Gregorio Borgia, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

VATICAN CITY — Almost all Vatican officials initially opposed Pope Francis' idea of bringing the Israeli and Palestinian presidents together for a prayer summit, he said in an interview published Friday.

However, they eventually warmed up to the idea.

Francis hosted Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas on the lawn of the Vatican gardens on June 8 for an evening of Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers, weeks after the latest round of U.S.-sponsored peace talks collapsed. The meeting wasn't aimed at restarting talks, but merely to serve as a symbol of mutual coexistence and respect.

In an interview with the Barcelona newspaper "La Vanguardia," Francis acknowledged the idea was completely novel and wasn't easy to pull off. But he said he had one aim: "to open a window to the world."

"Here in the Vatican, 99 percent said we shouldn't do it, and then later the 1 percent started growing," he said.

Francis, whose friendship with Jews is well-known, appeared to defend World War II-era Pope Pius XII, accused by some Jews of not speaking out enough against the Holocaust. He noted that Pius sheltered Jews and said even the Allied powers had some explaining to do.

"They knew perfectly well the Nazis' rail network used to bring Jews to concentration camps. They had the photos. Why didn't they bomb the tracks?" he asked. "It'd be good that we discuss everything" and not just Pius' actions.

On current events, Francis said he was concerned about recent secessionist movements in Scotland, Barcelona and Italy's Padania region. He suggested that the secession that occurred in the former Yugoslavia was understandable since "there are places with cultures that are so different that you can't keep them together even with glue."

"The Yugoslav case was very clear, but I ask myself if it's so clear in other cases," he said. "You have to study it case by case."

Asked why he even dared to enter into the Mideast "hurricane," Francis quipped that the true hurricane came when he visited Brazil last year and was mobbed by millions of well-wishers because he refused the bullet-proof popemobile.

"I couldn't greet people and tell them I love them from inside a sardine can, even if it was crystal!" he said.

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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