VATICAN CITY (RNS) Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople may join Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres when they meet Pope Francis to pray for peace this weekend.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Tuesday (June 3) that the pope had invited the head of the Orthodox faith to join the Middle East leaders at a Vatican prayer summit to be held this Sunday (June 8).
“It’s true that the pope invited him and wants him to come,” Lombardi said. “I think he will come but so far we do not have an official confirmation.”
Lombardi was responding to a report in the Italian daily La Stampa, which said sources in the patriarchate had confirmed Bartholomew’s attendance. The newspaper said a formal announcement may be made Wednesday (June 4).
During Francis’ three-day Middle East visit, he said: “I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer.”
The surprise invitation to the two presidents was issued after the pope celebrated Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square.
“Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment,” Francis said. “The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace.”
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down in late April and there have been no public high-level meetings for a year.
But one of the primary reasons for Francis’ visit to the Holy Land in May was to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between former Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem.
The Vatican has dismissed as premature suggestions of a joint gathering between Catholic and Orthodox churches to mark the 1,700th anniversary of the Council of Nicea in 2025.