He was never going to please everybody in his visit to the vortex of the world’s spiritual turbulence. Even so, the Pontiff’s visit to Palestine and Israel was a miraculous balance of grace and prophetic energy!
He went with a promise that his tour of the Holy Land would be of a strictly religious nature. Even so, Zionists had plenty to criticise him for:
- The Pope flew directly from Jordan to Bethlehem, thus by-passing Palestine’s Israeli gate-keepers.
- He refused to speak of Israel as a ‘state of the Jewish people‘ (despite promptings from Mr Netanyahu)
- He did refer to the ‘State of Palestine’, confirming the Vatican’s recognition of Palestinian as an independent state.
Even so, the Pope did not openly advocate the Palestinian cause but rather directed all his energies towards emphasising inclusiveness:
- He travelled everywhere with his Jewish and Muslim companions – Rabbi Abraham Skorka and and Sheikh Omar Abboud.
- he spoke of Jerusalem as the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).
- He stopped and prayed at a graffitied section of the so-called ‘Apartheid Wall’ that separates Israel and Palestine.
- He likewise stopped and prayed at the so-called ‘Wailing Wall’ in Jerusalem – inserting into the wall a prayer for peace between Christian, Muslims and Jews
The Pope’s coup de gras though came when he invited both the Palestinian and Israeli Presidents – Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres, respectively – to join him at his home in the Vatican to pray for peace between Israel and Palestine.
This was a political master-stroke as neither of the two men could respectfully decline such an offer. At the same time, who knows whether this might not give birth to a genuine peace-process, mediated over by a far more honest broker than the heavily compromised Americans!
With this bold initiative the Roman Pontiff managed to harness leaders of both countries and take them to neutral soil where they will have the opportunity to listen to the Almighty as well as each other!
Was this a piece of subtle political maneuvering or simply the prayerful offer of a pious man. In truth it was both, for prayer and politics cannot be easily separated. Both are concerned with the welfare of people, and so both are the business of the church!
It’s disappointing that Pope Francis has had to put on record that his visit to Palestine and Israel next week (in that order) is for religious purposes only – disappointing but totally understandable.
In point of fact religion and politics can never be easily separated. Politics is about people, and so you can no more separate religion and politics than you can religion and people, and there is no doubt that Francis’ visit has the potential to have an enormous impact on the political situation across the Levant.
Even so, Francis is not being dishonest. As he spells out, his primary goal is meet with his ‘brother’, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. What could be more religious than healing a one thousand year old schism in the church. Of course, renewed fellowship between the Catholic and Orthodox wings of the church will have ramifications that touch every level of society but that doesn’t make the meeting any less religious!
The same can be said of the priority Francis has given to Palestine over Israel in his itinerary (see here). Is the fact that he is going straight to Bethlehem from Jordan and not going via Jerusalem (let alone Tel Aviv) a de facto recognition of the State of Palestine on the part of the Vatican?
Certainly many will see it that way, and many Palestinians will gain new strength and hope from such recognition, but it is hard to accept that Francis is doing anything more than his religious duty in dispensing comfort and hope. 🙂
TEXT IN ENGLISH:
Below is the draft itinerary of Pope Francis’ forthcoming visit to the Holy Land. I have a feeling that it’s going to come as a rude surprise to some of his hosts!
We only have to compare the Pope’s itinerary with that of the US President on his recent visit. Obama started in Jerusalem and paid obeisance to the political leadership in Israel before venturing further into the regions to which they are the US-backed gatekeepers. In contrast, Francis is following the path of the Lord Jesus Himself – starting off in Bethlehem and concluding his stay in Jerusalem (though we trust he won’t follow the Lord too closely and get himself killed there)!
I have no idea whether Netanyahu will consider this a slap in the face or not. Either way, Francis’ agenda is clear: the people of Palestine come first! He will meet with them, celebrate mass with them, eat with Palestinian families and speak with their leaders, and only when his time in the West Bank is concluded will he head to Israel proper. And even when he gets to Jerusalem, Francis is meeting first with Patriarch Athenagoras and the Grand Mufti before the schedule allows for any time with Israeli politicians! Surely this speaks volumes!
The only shame is that Francis hasn’t scheduled in any time in Gaza. That would be truly spectacular. Perhaps it could still happen? I don’t put it beyond him!
Pilgrimage of His Holiness Pope Francis in the Holy Land
on the occasion of the
50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem
between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras
(May 24 – 26, 2014)
Program as of March 27, 2014
Saturday, May 24, 2014
08:15 Departure from Rome Fiumicino Airport for Amman
13:00 Arrival at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman
13:45 ARRIVAL CEREMONY in the al-Husseini Royal Palace in Amman
COURTESY VISIT TO THEIR MAJESTIES THE KING AND QUEEN OF JORDAN
14:20 MEETING WITH THE AUTHORITIES OF THE KINGDOM OF JORDAN. Discourse of the Holy Father
16:00 HOLY MASS at the International Stadium in Amman. Homily of the Holy Father
19:00 Visit to the Baptismal Site at Bethany beyond the Jordan
19:15 MEETING WITH REFUGEES AND DISABLED YOUNG PEOPLE in the Latin church at Bethany beyond the Jordan. Discourse of the Holy Father
Sunday, May 25, 2014
8:15 FAREWELL FROM JORDAN at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman
8:30 Departure by helicopter from the Queen Alia Internal Airport in Amman for Bethlehem
9:20 Arrival at the helicopter port of Bethlehem
9:30 ARRIVAL CEREMONY at the Presidential Palace in Bethlehem
COURTESY VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE STATE OF PALESTINE
10:00 MEETING WITH THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY – Discourse of the Holy Father
11:00 HOLY MASS in Manger Square in Bethlehem. Homily of the Holy Father
REGINA COELI PRAYER. Allocution of the Holy Father
13:30 Lunch with families from Palestine in the Franciscan Convent of Casa Nova in Bethlehem
15:00 PRIVATE VISIT TO THE GROTTO OF THE NATIVITY IN BETHLEHEM
15:20 GREETING OF CHILDREN FROM THE REFUGEE CAMPS OF DEHEISHEH, AIDA AND BEIT JIBRIN at the Phoenix Center of the Deheisheh Refugee Camp
15:45 FAREWELL FROM THE STATE OF PALESTINE at the helicopter port of Bethlehem
16:00 Departure by helicopter from the helicopter port of Bethlehem for Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv
16:30 ARRIVAL CEREMONY at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Discourse of the Holy Father
17:15 Transfer by helicopter to Jerusalem
17:45 Arrival at the helicopter port of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus
18:15 Private meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem. Signing of a joint declaration.
19.00 ECUMENICAL MEETING on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. Discourse of the Holy Father
20:15 Dinner with the Patriarchs and Bishops and the Papal suite at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem
Monday, May 26, 2014
8:15 VISIT TO THE GRAND MUFTI OF JERUSALEM in the building of the Great Council on the Esplanade of the Mosques. Discourse of the Holy Father
9:10 VISIT TO THE WESTERN WALL in Jerusalem
9:45 Laying a wreath at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem
10.00 VISIT TO YAD VASHEM in Jerusalem. Discourse of the Holy Father
10:45 COURTESY VISIT TO THE TWO CHIEF RABBIS at Heichal Shlomo Center in Jerusalem, next to the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. Discourse of the Holy Father
11:45 COURTESY VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem. Discourse of the Holy Father
13:00 PRIVATE AUDIENCE WITH THE PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL at Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem
13:30 Lunch, the Papal suite at Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem
15:30 Private visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at the building next to the Orthodox church of Viri Galileai on the Mount of Olives
16:00 MEETING WITH PRIESTS, MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS AND SEMINARIANS in the Church of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Discourse of the Holy Father
17:20 HOLY MASS WITH THE ORDINARIES OF THE HOLY LAND AND THE PAPAL SUITE in the room of the Cenacle in Jerusalem. Homily of the Holy Father
19:30 Transfer by helicopter from the helicopter port on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv
20:00 FAREWELL FROM THE STATE OF ISRAEL at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv
20:15 Departure from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv for Ciampino Airport in Rome
23:00 Arrival at Ciampino Airport in Rome
Pope Francis visiting Ramallah – now that would be a step in the right direction, and a far more promising development for Palestine than any number of farcical peace talks.
The reality is that the Israeli government is entirely comfortable with the status quo. Netanyahu has no reason to seriously consider any state for the Palestinian people. Keeping up appearances as a peace maker is important of course, but nothing substantial is going to happen until real pressure is placed on the Israeli government from outside of Israel’s borders, and the Pope is in precisely the right position to exert the necessary leverage!
Of course the Vatican has a very poor history when it comes to siding with the oppressed and the vulnerable. Even so, all he early indicators suggest that this new Pope may be the change that the church has been waiting for!
Who knows? If Pope Francis can get as far as Ramallah, perhaps he’ll venture into Gaza?!
Palestinian president hopes to use pen from pope to sign peace treaty
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis gave Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a fancy pen as a gift, and Abbas told the pope, “I hope to sign the peace agreement with Israel with this pen.”
Pope Francis responded with his hope that the agreement would be reached “soon, soon.”
The exchange took place Oct. 17 in the papal library after the pope and Palestinian president had spent almost half an hour meeting privately.
Abbas had given the pope a Bible and a framed scene of Bethlehem, West Bank. The pope gave Abbas a framed scene of the Vatican along with the pen, “because you obviously have many things to sign,” which is when Abbas spoke about his hopes to sign a peace treaty.
A Vatican statement about Abbas’ meeting with the pope and a later meeting with the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, said, “The reinstatement of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians” was a topic in both conversations.
“The parties expressed their hope that this process may bear fruit and enable a just and lasting solution to be found to the conflict,” it said. “Hope was expressed that the parties to the conflict will make courageous and determined decisions in order to promote peace” and that the international community would support their efforts. The U.S.-mediated talks began in July.
The Vatican statement did not mention Pope Francis’ possible trip to the Holy Land, although when Abbas greeted Archbishop Mamberti he told him that he had invited the pope to visit. Abbas’ delegation also included the mayor of Bethlehem, which likely would be on the itinerary of a papal trip.
In April, Israeli President Shimon Peres also invited the pope, and Israeli media have been reporting that a papal visit is expected in the spring. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Oct. 16 that the prime minister would meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome Oct. 23 and meet the pope during the same trip.
The Vatican statement on Abbas’ meetings said the pope and Palestinian leader also discussed the ongoing war in Syria and expressed their hopes that “dialogue and reconciliation may supplant the logic of violence as soon as possible.”
The two also discussed the work underway on a Vatican-Palestinian agreement regulating “several essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine,” as well as the situation of Christian communities in the Palestinian territories and the contributions Christians make to society throughout the Middle East.
if you can’t view this video, click here.