On Sunday, Islamic Prayers and readings from the Quran were heard from the Vatican for the first time in history.
The prayers came as a result of Pope Francis’s request that Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meet him at the Vatican City to pray amongst each other for peace. Pope Francis hoped that inter-faith dialogue would promote peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
What remains unclear is why the Pope decided to invite President Peres instead of Abbas’s head-of-state counterpart, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to attend the prayers at the Vatican.
A representative from the Holy See said Friday that the prayers would be a “pause in politics.” However, skeptics have noted that the very act of bringing Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders together to “pray for peace” is a politically-charged move in and of itself.
The event would feature readings from several texts of the monotheistic faiths. The Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures), New Testament, and the Quran would be featured in the ceremonies. Afterwards, Francis, Peres, and Abbas were called upon to read religious verses of their choosing.
Speaking in Italian, the Pope said of his hopes for peace, “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities.” During his trip to Israel last month, Pope Francis said that searching for peace was “an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples.”
Many have been critical of the Pope’s refusal to place responsibility on any particular actors for the lack of peace in the Middle East.
Addressing a police headquarters from Israel on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “For thousands of years, the people of Israel have been praying for peace daily. But until that peace comes, we will continue to strengthen you so that you can continue to defend the State of Israel. Ultimately, that is what will guarantee our future and will also bring peace.”