May 29, 2014
Pope Francis: Hope for Peace in the Holy Land
By Mike McManus
Pope Francis was the first Pope to fly directly to Bethlehem
where Jesus was born and to refer to the “state of Palestine ” - to the utter
joy of Palestinians.
He made an unscheduled stop at the hated wall separating Bethlehem on three
sides from Jerusalem. Francis touched his head to the wall, and prayed next to
painted graffiti denouncing “apartheid wall,” and “Bethlehem is like the Warsaw
Later while standing next to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Francis
asserted, “The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become
increasingly unacceptable. The time has come for everyone to find the courage to
be generous and creative in the service of the common good.”
Abbas responded, “Your visit is loaded with symbolic meaning as a defender of
the poor and the marginalized…We welcome any initiative to make peace in the
Similarly, at the request of Israel, the Pope made an unscheduled stop at the
Mount Herzl memorial to victims of Arab terrorist attacks - 78 tablets listing
the names of slaughtered Jews. He touched one naming Jews killed in his home of
Buenos Aires, Argentina.
At the Western Wall of the historic Temple of Jerusalem, he tucked a note
between stones with the Lord’s Prayer, handwritten in Spanish. More poignantly,
at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, he met and listened to the stories of six
survivors. One had been saved as a baby by a Catholic family. He kissed each of
Francis was the first Pope to place a wreath of signature yellow and white
flowers on the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism.
More important than these symbolic gestures on each side of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Pope Francis invited Israeli President Shimon
Peres and President Abbas to his apartment in the Vatican to pray together for
peace. Both accepted and will meet next week.
Some dismissed the significance of the invitation, noting that Perez, 90, will
leave his largely ceremonial post in July. Abbas has also indicated he wants to
retire soon. Both are older than Francis who is 77.
However, Perez was one of the founding fathers of Israel in 1948 and has been
Prime Minister three times. Francis met privately with Perez at his Presidential
Residence in Jerusalem in a “very, very lengthy” one-on-one. The Pope wrote in a
guestbook, “It is always the grace of God to come in the house of a man who is
wise and good.”
Perez responded by saying “many things about the peace process, the problem of
building peace,, the collaboration of religious leaders and the pope in building
peace,” said a spokesman for Francis.
Similarly, Abbas was elected President of Palestine for a four year term, but
has continued to serve without a re-election. He was a founder of what the UN
recently recognized as “the state of Palestine,” though it is not yet an
What can a day of prayer between a Catholic Pope, and the founders of Israel and
of Palestine accomplish?
Perhaps nothing. After all, Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Holy Land
multiple times and was utterly unable to jump-start the peace process.
On the other hand, Pope Francis is a spiritual leader who has earned worldwide
respect in part because he recognizes the spirituality of others quite different
In his public remarks to President Perez the pope said, “I am happy to be able
to meet you once again, this time in Jerusalem, the city which preserves the
Holy Places dear to three great religions which worship the God who called
“Peacemaking demands first and foremost respect for the dignity and freedom of
every human person, which Jews, Christians and Muslims alike believe to be
created by God and destined for eternal life. This shared conviction enables us
resolutely to pursue peaceful solutions to every controversy and conflict.”
He urged that “all parties avoid initiatives and actions which contradict their
stated determination to reach a true agreement and that they tirelessly work for
peace, with decisiveness and tenacity.”
Three old men of three great faiths will gather shortly in Rome to pray for
peace and plan steps that might be taken to achieve that great goal. Each knows
it would be a legacy to their peoples.
We should all pray they are successful.
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