“Never again, Lord. Never again!” he said in the Hall of Remembrance in the Yad Vashem Museum which commemorates 6m Jews killed by the Nazis in the Second World War.
The fourth pope to visit Israel, Francis had earlier became the first to lay a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, seen as the founder of modern Zionism that led to Israel’s foundation.
At the request of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, he also made an unannounced stop at Israel’s ‘Memorial to the Victims of Terror’, the day after unexpectedly praying at a towering Israeli security wall that is despised by Palestinians.
In a mirror image of the halt at the graffiti-smeared wall, Francis put both hands on the neat stone and marble monument and bowed his head — an image that pleased his Israeli hosts who had smarted in silence over Sunday’s impromptu stop.
“I pray for all the victims of terrorism. Please, no more terrorism,” the Pope said at the memorial, which is engraved with the names of Israeli civilians killed mainly in attacks by Palestinian militants.
Netanyahu, standing at his side, thanked him for his words. “We don’t teach our children to plant bombs. We teach them peace, but we have to build a wall for those who teach the other side,” he said, accusing Palestinian leaders of incitement.
Israel says its barrier in the occupied West Bank was erected to safeguard national security after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings a decade ago. Palestinians see it as a brutal attempt to grab land they seek for a future state.
A day of political and religious encounters began at the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, Francis taking off his shoes before walking into the Jerusalem shrine from which Muslims believe the prophet Mohammed climbed to heaven.
Francis then went to pray at the Western Wall, one the Jews’ most revered shrines. There, he, a rabbi, and an Islamic leader — both friends from Argentina — embraced in a sign of the inter-religious dialogue that Francis is convinced can be a catalyst for peace.
At Yad Vashem, as he was introduced to six survivors of Nazi concentration camps, he bent slowly to kiss the hand of each elderly person. Reading a haunting personal reflection, he called the Holocaust “a boundless tragedy”.
Francis made one of his boldest political gestures on Sunday when he intervened in flailing diplomatic efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, inviting the presidents from the two sides to his Vatican residence to pray for peace. The meeting is due to take place on June 6.