We must work together for peace, says Pope

Pope Francis’ three-day visit to the Holy Land was billed principally as a religious occasion: to cement relations with the Orthodox Church by marking the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s historic meeting in Jerusalem with Patriarch Athenagoras I. But the Jesuit pontiff’s pilgrimage was filled with symbolic acts of reconciliation and spontaneous events of prayerfulness that few could have anticipated.

The Pope’s arrival in Bethlehem direct from Jordan was interpreted as a gesture of support for the Palestinian people. Similarly, his unscheduled pause for prayer at the eight-metre-high concrete wall dividing the West Bank from the Israeli settlements was widely reported. It was during Mass in Bethlehem that Francis then issued an invitation to the Presidents of both Israel and Palestine to join him at his home in the Vatican to pray for peace in the region – an invitation that was accepted immediately by both of the leaders.

Themes of dialogue, reconciliation, peace and forgiveness were prominent throughout Pope Francis’ pilgrimage. He paid his respects at a monument to Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks and spoke eloquently at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial of the sacrifice made by six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis all over Europe.

Pope Francis had travelled to the Holy Land with two of his long-time friends from Argentina: Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Iman Omar Abboud. Their embrace at the Western ('wailing') wall of Jerusalem, beneath the Temple Mount venerated by the Jews and the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, sacred to Muslims, spoke far more powerfully than any words could ever have done. It represented visually what he referred  to verbally before leaving Israel, when he addressed Christians, Muslims and Jews after being shown around the Al Aqsa compound: “May we work together for justice and peace."

Above: Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Iman Omar Abboud and Pope Francis embrace in friendship in Jerusalem.(CNS photo/Paul Haring)