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Pope Francis prays at that other wall in Israel

by Brad A. Greenberg

May 26, 2014 | 8:34 pm

There is a famous picture of Pope John Paul II visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem. There's one of Pope Benedict XVI too. And while pictures were snapped of Pope Francis praying at the Western Wall on Sunday, there is a different picture of this pontiff's first trip to Israel that will be iconic.

Time magazine reports on the pope's decision to stop and pray at the wall separating Israel and the Palestinian West Bank:

The surprise stop was the latest signal that the Pope backed what the Vatican had indicated in 2012 with its support for a U.N. vote to make Palestine a nonmember state: that it regards it as a sovereign state. In a speech earlier on Sunday the Pope called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a “man of peace” after paying him a courtesy visit, and referred to the Vatican’s good relations with the “state of Palestine.”

But Sunday’s unscheduled prayer had the weight of symbolic imagery. Israeli guards watched from a fortified guard tower overhead as the Pontiff stepped down from his Popemobile and made his way to what may be the most photographed section of the Wall, as the barrier is colloquially known — a graffiti-rich section that tourist buses pass by entering from Israel en route to Bethlehem, which along with the rest of the West Bank Israeli troops have occupied since 1967.

That stop was far from the only memorable moment from Pope Francis' Mideast trip. He celebrated Mass in Bethlehem, met with Syrian refugees, prayed at the Western Wall, visited the Dome of the Rock, kissed the hands of Holocaust survivors, laid a wreath at Herzl's tomb—and there was the "spontaneous embrace between Sheikh Omar Abboud, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Pope Francis in front of the Western Wall." But it's likely to be the moment longest remembered.

The real question: What effect will it have?

(And for a Catholic perspective on the pope's trip, see "Powerful Gestures and Challenging Words in the Holy Land".)

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