Peace on Earth?

Vatican Mideast

The presidents of Israeli and Palestinian joined Pope Francis for a remarkable evening of peace prayers at the Vatican,just weeks after the last round of U.S.-sponsored negotiations collapsed.

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas joked and embraced in the foyer of the Vatican hotel where Francis lives and later in the Vatican gardens, where they joined Francis in presiding over a sunset invocation of Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers.

Francis told the two men, who signed the Oslo peace accords in 1993, that he hoped the summit would mark “a new journey” toward peace. He said too many children had been killed by war and violence, and that their memory should instill the strength and patience to work for dialogue and coexistence.

“Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare,” he said. “It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict.”

Pope Francis told the Israeli and Palestinian presidents that they “must respond” to their people’s yearning for peace in the Middle East and find “the strength to persevere undaunted in dialogue.”

“Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity,” the pope said.

Francis said seeking peace was “an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples” and noted that millions around the world of all faiths were praying together with them for peace.

Vatican officials have insisted that Francis had no political agenda in inviting the two leaders to pray at his home other than to rekindle a desire for peace. But the meeting could have greater symbolic significance, given that Francis was able to bring them together at all so soon after peace talks failed and at a time that the Israeli government is trying to isolate Abbas.

“In the Middle East, symbolic gestures and incremental steps are important,” noted the Rev. Thomas Reese, a veteran Vatican analyst for the National Catholic Reporter. “And who knows what conversations can occur behind closed doors in the Vatican.”

The meeting has also cemented Francis’ reputation as a leader unhindered by diplomatic and theological protocol who is willing to go out on a limb for the sake of peace. Francis capitalized on both his own enormous popularity and the peace-loving heritage of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, to bring the two sides together.

The unusual prayer summit was a feat of diplomatic and religious protocol, organized in the two weeks since Francis issued the surprise invitation to Peres and Abbas from Manger Square in Bethlehem.

It took place in the lush Vatican gardens in the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica, the most religiously neutral place in the tiny city-state. It incorporated Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers, delivered in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Italian and with musical interludes from the three faith traditions.

The prayers focused on three themes common to each of the religions: thanking God for creation, seeking forgiveness for past wrongdoing and praying to God to bring peace to the region.

At the conclusion, Francis, Peres and Abbas shook hands and planted an olive tree together in a sign of peace. Also on hand was the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, to give a united Christian front.

Vatican officials have described the prayer evening as something of a “time-out” in political negotiations, merely designed to rekindle the desire for peace through prayers common to all the main faith traditions in the Holy Land.

But even Francis’ secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has said the power of prayer shouldn’t be discounted for its ability to change reality.

“Prayer has a political strength that we maybe don’t even realize and should be exploited to the full,” he said at the end of Francis’ recent Mideast trip. “Prayer has the ability to transform hearts and thus to transform history.”

Peres, 90, deviated from his prepared remarks in the garden to add a personal note as his term as Israeli president comes to an end.

“I was young. Now I am old,” he said. “I experienced war. I tasted peace. Never will I forget the bereaved families — parents and children — who paid the cost of war. And all my life I shall never stop to act for peace, for generations to come.

“Let’s all of us join hands and make it happen,” he said.

Abbas made a few political points, saying Palestinians craved peace as well as “dignified living” and “freedom in our sovereign and independent state.”

“We want peace for us and for our neighbors,” he said, according to his prepared text.

The two met privately for about 15 minutes inside a nearby Vatican villa.

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7 thoughts on “Peace on Earth?

    • Could be a book about Francis, frustrated about the materialism around him, is trying to reach higher and higher goals.

      Like

  1. Actually it COULD work.
    There’s little scope for starting shitfights if everybody speaks a different language,
    ….and prays to a different god. 😉
    Sort of an ecumenical Tower of Babel.

    God does move in mysterious ways!

    Like

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