VATICAN CITY, June 9 (UPI) -- Pope Francis welcomed the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to prayer at the Vatican.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, days away from retirement, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with the Pope in an unprecedented prayer meeting in a Vatican garden Sunday afternoon. It followed an invitation made publicly by the Pope last month during his visit to the Holy Land.
Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi said Monday the symbolic meeting for prayer was "a strong, new contribution" to the peace process, and added Peres and Abbas embraced at least once during the meeting.
"It was a moment of liberation, of people who sincerely desire peace but have trouble finding the way," Lombardi said, adding the meeting was "an act of courage."
A statement from the Vatican said that, although it may not provoke immediate peace in the Middle East, the event "made a strong contribution" to the peace process.