Pope Francis is visiting Yad Vashem – Israel’s national Holocaust memorial – on the final leg of his three-day Middle East tour.
After arriving in Israel on Sunday, Pope Francis described the Holocaust as “an enduring symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink”.
On Monday, the Pope was also expected to visit religious sites in Jerusalem and hold talks with Israel’s chief rabbis.
The pontiff’s tour has already taken in Jordan and the Palestinian territories.
On Sunday, the Pope invited Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican to pray for peace. Both accepted.
Monday’s itinerary began with a meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is situated on a disputed holy site known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and Jews as the Temple Mount.
Pope Francis entered the Dome of the Rock, from where Islamic tradition says the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
Later, the Pope will visit the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism. It is part of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount dating back to a time when a Jewish temple stood there.
Before visiting Yad Vashem, Pope Francis laid a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, who is seen as the founder of modern Zionism.
Three previous pontiffs who have visited Jerusalem over the past 50 years have not visited the site.
The move was welcomed by PM Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.
“We commend and appreciate your decision to lay a wreath on the grave of Binyamin Zev Herzl,” Benjamin Netanyahu said, using Theodor Herzl’s Hebrew name.
The official purpose for Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land is to improve ties with the Orthodox Church.
However, it comes just weeks after peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down.
Later on Monday, Pope Francis will travel to Tel Aviv, from where he will fly back to Rome.
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