Pope Francis called on Wednesday for the status quo of Jerusalem to be respected and for "wisdom and prudence" to prevail to avoid further conflict, hours before the expected announcement that the United States is recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Francis made the appeal during his weekly audience, after speaking with the Palestinian leader and soon after meeting with a delegation of Palestinian religious and intellectual representatives in a previously scheduled audience.
Francis said he was "profoundly concerned" about recent developments concerning Jerusalem, and declared the city a unique and sacred place for Christians, Jews and Muslims that has a "special vocation for peace."
He appealed "that eveyrone respects the status quo of the city," according to U.N. resolutions.
"I pray to the Lord that its identity is preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world and that wisdom and prudence prevail to prevent new elements of tension from being added to a global context already convulsed by so many cruel conflicts," he said.
The Vatican has long sought an internationally guaranteed status for Jerusalem that safeguards its sacred character for Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Francis spoke by telephone on Tuesday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, after President Donald Trump told Abbas of his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The Vatican said the call with Francis was made at Abbas' initiative.
Early Wednesday, Francis met with a delegation of Palestinian religious and intellectual leaders who were at the Vatican for a previously scheduled meeting with the Vatican's interreligious dialogue office. The Vatican and the Palestinians plan to create a permanent working group on interfaith issues.
In his comments to the group, Francis expressed his hope for "peace and prosperity" for the Palestinian people and called for dialogue that respects the rights of everyone in the Holy Land.
"The primary condition of that dialogue is reciprocal respect and a commitment to strengthening that respect, for the sake of recognizing the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be," he said.
Francis visited the Holy Land in 2014 and later hosted Abbas and the then-Israeli president, Shimon Peres, for an interreligious peace prayer in the Vatican gardens. Renewed conflict broke out in the Gaza Strip soon thereafter.
The Holy See recognized the Palestinian state in 2015.