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Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres pray with Pope Francis for Mideast peace

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 12:58 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pope Francis says meeting is for people who want to stop living as enemies
  • Israeli President Shimon Peres says peace must be pursued no matter how distant it seems
  • Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calls for divine help to make the region secure

(CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres committed themselves to the quest for peace Sunday during a meeting of key figures in the Middle East peace process.

But unlike previous attempts to achieve a resolution to the region's turmoil through traditional means, there would be no negotiating nor any political talks at Sunday's summit. This appeal would be made to a higher calling: Abbas and Peres prayed for peace together Sunday at the Vatican home of Pope Francis.

The meeting comes two weeks after the Pope invited the two leaders to do so during his visit to the Holy Land.

"In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace" the Pope said in Bethlehem's Manger Square following a May 25 Mass, " I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace."

Sunday's meeting was a first for the Vatican, which had never hosted a prayer gathering of two leaders engaged in conflict.

However pious the agenda, the day wasn't totally free of political subtext.

After prayers read in Arabic, Hebrew and Italian by figures from different religions, each leader offered his own invocation.

"Without peace, we are not complete. We have yet to achieve this mission of humanity," Peres said. "Even when peace seems distant, we must pursue it to bring it closer."

"We ask you, Lord, for peace in the Holy Land, Palestine and Jerusalem," said Abbas, according to a CNN translator. "Together with its people, we call on you to make Palestine and Jerusalem, in particular, a secure land for all believers, a place of prayer and worship."

Pope Francis (R) meets Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Pope Francis (R) meets Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Pope said the meeting is the response to people who want to live as brothers and sisters and not as enemies.

"I hope that this meeting will be a journey toward what joins us, to overcome what divides us," Francis said.

The groundbreaking meeting -- which was the result of the Pope offering an olive branch two weeks ago -- concluded with the two men exchanging kisses on the cheek before they broke ground themselves for the planting of an olive tree.

Only time will tell if today's prayers will go answered.

"The metric that Pope Francis would be using to measure the success of this event is much longer term. I don't think anyone is expecting an immediate result," said CNN senior Vatican analyst John L. Allen Jr. "Now that said, you could also argue that the success of tonight could be measured by the simple fact that it happened."

CNN's Delia Gallagher and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

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