The Pope waves at the faithful in Rome in March 2013./ Photo: Claudio Coelli.
Darío Menor. Vatican City
During three days, the Pope Francisco will be using all his moral, spiritual and political influence to try and send peace to the Middle East. From 24 to 26 May, Jorge Mario Bergoglio will go on a pilgrimage to Holy Land with five specific objectives: travelling around some places where Jesus Christ lived, meeting the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartolomeo, pushing the negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, favouring the end of the civil war in Syria and supporting the presence of the Christian minority in the region. The stay will have three stages: Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
This first international journey decided by Francisco (the participation in the World Youth Day celebrated in Rio de Janeiro last July was a legacy of Benedict XVI) commemorates the pilgrimage that Paul VI made to Holy Land 50 years ago. During that journey, which inaugurated the visits to the Pontiffs in other countries, the Pope Montini had a historical encounter with the then Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras. The hug they shared meant the end of a thousand years of mutual excommunications between Catholics and Orthodox and laid the foundation stone for the dialogue between both churches. Paul VI described the journey as the “plough touch that has moved a hardened and inert ground”.
If the plough Paul VI used in Holy Land bore fruit in the ecumenical field, Francisco’s is destined to do it in the field of international relations. The Argentine Pope goes to the Middle East in a moment where peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine are going through an “interesting phase”, as Vatican sources explain to The Diplomat: “Francisco is going to Holy Land to share his message of peace and reconciliation. The Israeli Palestinian peace process is at a good point and it can be encouraged by the Holy Father’s contribution”. Francisco himself, during the meeting that he maintained in December with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamín Netanyahu, said that the time to find “a fair and lasting solution” for the conflict which respects the rights of both sides has arrived.
This is the same message he transmitted both to the Israeli head of State, Shimón Peres, with whom he held a meeting in April 2013, and to the president of the Palestinian National Authority (PA), Mahmud Abbas, who he welcomed to the Vatican in October. The Pope asked them to make “brave” decisions to overcome the confrontations once and for all. The most explicit answer was the one coming from Abbas, who thanked the Pontiff, after receiving a pen as a present from him, saying: “I hope I can sign the peace with Israel using this pen”.
Syria and Palestine, as well as putting an end to the persecution of Christians in the region, are the objectives of the journey
Syria is another big problem whose solution wants to encourage the Pope with his visit. The Holy See considers that the United States and France ruled out bombing Bashar Al Assad’s regime mainly because of the pressure of the Pontiff who led at a fasting and prayer vigil to try to put an end to the conflict in the Arab country. Now it is expected that the pilgrimage helps to achieve the peace. “Everyone must make allowances with Syria’s issue so that each one can convince the other part. There are many parts involved: the Syrian Government, the rebels, Russia, China, Iran, the United States…”, point out the Vatican sources.
Jerusalem’s Latin patriarch, Fouad Twal, recently admitted the undeniable “social and political dimension of the journey” predicting a “global impact” on Syria’s war. “We have already seen the effect of the fasting and prayer day. These will be three days where the call for peace and dialogue will resound loudly”, assured Twal. The interview between the Pope and Bartholomew of Constantinople will be celebrated in Jerusalem. Francisco will also participate in an ecumenical meeting in front of the Christ’s empty grave along with the Orthodox leader and the representatives of all Churches present in Holy Land. With this event, the Pontiff hopes to make two achievements: putting an end to the disputes of the different Christian creeds in the area and calling for the end of the persecution of Jesus’ disciples in the region. He is also expected to discuss with the Israeli authorities to deal with the situation of this minority in order to have some political decisions approved, decisions that make their presence in Holy Land easier so that its members are not forced to emigrate.
Francisco will be the fourth successor of Saint Peter to visit the places where Jesus lived, after Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. This Argentine, who arrived to the pontifical throne when almost no one expected it, will walk on “holy ground, from where Peter departed and where none of his successors came back”, as the Pope Montini said when he announced his journey.