A Pilgrimage Of Peace

By Father John Walsh on June 15, 2014

The road to peace in the Middle East has a new roadmap.  Pope Francis walked a road less travelled with his two friends from Buenos Aires, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, former rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, and Sheik Omar Abboud, a former secretary-general of the Islamic Center of Argentina. Francis was telling the world that he had been on the inter-faith road for a long time. What we have learned is that Pope Francis cannot be orchestrated.

Everyone knows of his off-the-script comments and his unexpected actions.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned that Jesus lived “here” and spoke Hebrew … Aramaic the Pope interjected … a friendly comment.  Certain reactions ignited the tinder-box of tension.  What requires an explanation is Francis’Christian Catholic faith.  It is grounded in the historical Jesus who is clothed in Jewishness  in the Gospels, in location, language and culture.  However, the Risen Lord Jesus is without boundaries, he is present in all cultures, speaks and hears all languages, is neither female nor male, neither Jew nor Greek. 

As a young by, I wondered why there was a statue of a black man in an all-white community.  Later I learned he was Saint Martin de Pores, the saint used in Madonna’s church condemned video Like a Virgin.  I also saw a crucifix with the Jesus figure that of a black Jesus.  It is called inculturation of the faith.  Jesus can look like the members of the community in which faith is celebrated. A Palestinian Jesus is only a reflection of that community. 

My initial reaction when I visited the site of the Holy Sepulcre was one of disbelief. There were various Christian factions vying to establish separate places of worship as the authentic site.  The central tenet of the Christian faith, the Resurrection, was fragmented.  In this context the Bishop of Rome gathered the disparate group of spiritual leaders to pray together.  They did!  The prayers at the Kotel affirmed the Jewish people and the Nation of Israel.  Meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew furthered the Pope’s desire to reconcile with sisters and brothers from whom the Latin Rite has been separated since 1054. The prayer at the wall that separates Israel from Gaza was a sincere prayer for peace for two divided peoples, a hopeful prayer for pace.  The Pope invited the two Presidents, Israeli and Palestinian, Shimon Peres and  Mahmoud Abbas to join him in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace.  He offered his home in the Vatican as the place for the encounter of prayer.They accepted!  The prayer is no longer a prayer limited to a location but a world-wide prayer for peace everywhere. 

On the plane back to Rome, Francis was asked about the invitation he gave to the two presidents.  He responded:

“The most authentic gestures are those that we don't think about, those that come to us, aren't they? I thought about suggesting it during the trip, but there were many logistical problems, because each one has to consider the territory, and it's not easy. So I thought about a meeting, and at the end, I came up with this invitation. It will be an encounter to pray, not for the purposes of mediation. We will pray with the two presidents; prayer is important, it helps. Afterwards, each person will return home. There would be a rabbi, a Muslim, and myself.

Thomas Merton said, God is not someone else.  He also said that what we say about God tells us more about ourselves than about God.  And as Sister Conneley said, God is but us.”  

Prayer releases us from fetters of iron and chains of affliction that are replaced by gold chains that brings us to our knees at the foot of the Lord to realize that peace is not a world without war; peace is a world where there will never again be war.   Prayer does not only change hearts from hearts of stone into hearts of flesh but prayer can change history  

Le shanha habaha b’Yerushaliyim.  Next year Jerusalem.


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