The Pope said he hoped "all will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement" for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. (Agencies)
"For the good of all, there is a need to intensify efforts and initiatives aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice, on the recognition of the rights of every individual, and on mutual security," Francis said in Bethlehem, the biblical city where Jesus was born.
In a symbolic nod to Palestinian statehood, the 77-year-old religious leader hailed good relations between the Holy See and "the State of Palestine", adding that the time had come "for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative" in ending "a protracted conflict which has inflicted many wounds so difficult to heal".
Pope Francis arrived in Bethlehem by helicopter from Jordan this morning on the second day of his first visit to the Middle East.
"In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, 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," the Pope said at the Mass in Bethlehem.
"I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer," Francis said.
Israeli President Shimon Peres and Abbas also accepted Pope Francis invitation to both leaders to pray for peace at the Vatican.
"The President welcomes the Pope's initiative and says he appreciates any effort that is being made towards achieving peace between Israel and her neighbours," a spokesperson for Peres said.
A PLO executive committee member said that the Palestinian leadership had accepted the papal invitation as well.
The pontiff met with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and conducted a public mass service in the central Manger Square.
Abbas in his comments raised concerns about the recent breakdown in US-sponsored peace talks and highlighted the difficult conditions prevailing in the Palestinian territories.
"Your visit is loaded with symbolic meaning as a defender of the poor and the marginalised," the PA President said.
Listing a series of complaints against Israel, including continued settlement construction, the plight of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, Israel's control of east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' would-be capital and Israel's construction of the "ugly wall" that encircles Bethlehem, Abbas also expressed hopes of peace.
"We welcome any initiative from you to make peace a reality in the Holy Land," the Palestinian leader said adding, "I am addressing our neighbours the Israelis. We are looking for the same thing that you are looking for, which is safety, security and stability".
Israel granted permission to more than 600 Christians from the Gaza Strip to visit the West Bank city considered the holiest for Christians, Israel Radio reported.
Some 3,000 Palestinian security forces were deployed for the Pope's visit and more than 1,000 media personnel were due to cover the historic trip. He will later today give an address at Ben-Gurion Airport, and will then move on to Jerusalem for the religious climax of his trip - a meeting with the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City.
Pope Francis is the fourth pontiff to visit Israel but will be the first to lay a wreath on the grave of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl. Earlier, waving Palestinian and Vatican flags, jubilant Palestinians cheered Francis as he arrived for the Mass in Manger Square in the heart of Bethlehem, home to the Church of the Nativity, built over Jesus' traditional birth grotto.
The pontiff made a brief stop at the Israeli fence surrounding three sides of Bethlehem, got out of his open-topped car and touched the massive concrete wall that Israel built during a wave of suicide attacks saying it was necessary for its security while the Palestinians claim that it has stifled life in the biblical city and captures Palestinian land across the West Bank. Francis briefly bowed his head in prayer at the site.
Palestinian officials were delighted at Francis' decision to arrive first in Bethlehem, rather than Tel Aviv, and to refer to the "state of Palestine".
"The fact that he is coming straight from Jordan to Bethlehem, without going through Israel, is a tacit recognition of a Palestinian state," said Palestinian Christian leader, Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
The Pope said he hoped "all will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement" for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.