“We are brothers, the children of the same Father: only if we recognize this, can peace come.” The pilgrimage of Pope Francis in the Holy Land came to a conclusion in the Vatican on Sunday, 8th June, the feast of Pentecost, with these words which are like a universal legacy for believers of all times. On 25th May, the Pope had invited “to his home” the Palestinian and Israeli Presidents, Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres, to pray together for peace.
“We are brothers, the children of the same Father: only if we recognize this, can peace come.” The pilgrimage of Pope Francis in the Holy Land came to a conclusion in the Vatican on Sunday, 8th June, the feast of Pentecost, with these words which are like a universal legacy for believers of all times. Only two weeks earlier, on 25th May, the Pope had invited “to his home” the Palestinian and Israeli Presidents, Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres, to pray together for peace. The invitation had been accepted by both and the Pope had asked the Custos of the Holy Land, fra Pierbattista Pizzaballa, to arrange the organizational details of the prayer meeting.
So, on Sunday, a little before 7 p.m., Pope Francis was in a splendid corner of the Vatican Gardens with his two guests: a triangular lawn, bound by two tall hedges. There was no religious symbol in sight and, as a roof, there was only the sky: the ideal “sanctuary” to welcome believers of different religions and to look up to God together. This is what the Pope wants: «We have to lift our eyes to heaven and acknowledge one another as children of one Father.” he said in his speech, a few minutes later. The atmosphere that reigned was encouraging; in Santa Marta, the Pope’s “home”, Peres and Abbas meeting a few minutes earlier, had embraced with feeling.
On the lawn, a small dais awaited the Pope and the two Presidents Peres and Abbas, respectively on the right and on the left of Francis. The delegations of the believers stood along the two hedges: on the right of the Pope the Israeli delegation (made up of rabbis and one Druze religious leader) and the Palestinian delegation (made up of imams and Muslim scholars). On the left of the Pope was the Christian delegation, led by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Bartholomaios, who was there “as a testimony to the pilgrimage which we Christians are making towards full unity,” said Francis.
The ceremony was simple and intense. First the Jews, then the Christians and lastly the Muslims spoke in chronological order, to raise to God a prayer of thanksgiving, a request for forgiveness for the sins committed and, in the last place, an invocation for peace. On the Christian side, the first to speak was the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomaios I who read the marvellous prophecy of Isaiah (65, 17-25), a promise of Peace and prosperity for Jerusalem: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered … I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy…». The request for forgiveness is entrusted to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal and Cardinal Peter Tukson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who read a prayer by St. John Paul II, whilst the invocation for peace was recited by a woman, Margaret Kassam, a Christian Arab from Haifa and active in the movement of the Focolari, one of the main organizations of the International Jewish-Christian Symposium which was held in Jerusalem in 2009 and a leading figure in religious dialogue in the Holy Land. Margaret significantly read the prayer attributed to St. Francis: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon;”
The Jewish and Muslim delegations ended their parts with a sung prayer. It was the first time that the song by a rabbi and the invocation of an imam had been heard in the Vatican. This meeting for the peace in the Vatican is something that has never been seen before. It was the Pope himself who explained why it is so necessary. “History teaches that our own powers do not suffice,” said the Pope in his speech. “More than once we have been on the verge of peace, but the evil one, employing a variety of means, has succeeded in blocking it. That is why we are here. because we know and we believe that we need the help of God. We do not renounce our responsibilities. but we do call upon God in an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples. We have heard a summons, and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word “Brother”. But to be able to utter this word, we have to lift our eyes to heaven and acknowledge one another as children of one Father.” In his speech, Francis insisted on the brotherhood that unites believers and on belonging to the common human family, made up of fathers and children. “Dear Presidents, our world is a legacy bequeathed to us from past generations, but it is also on loan to us from our children:” he said, “our children who are weary, worn out by conflicts and yearning for the dawn of peace, our children who plead with us to tear down the walls of enmity and to set out on the path of dialogue and peace, so that love and friendship will prevail. Many, all too many, of those children have been innocent victims of war and violence, saplings cut down at the height of their promise. It is our duty to ensure that their sacrifice is not in vain. The memory of these children instils in us the courage of peace, the strength to persevere undaunted in dialogue, the patience to weave, day by day, an ever more robust fabric of respectful and peaceful coexistence, for the glory of God and the good of all.”
“Peacemaking calls for courage,” continued Francis, “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.”
Pope Francis then recited a prayer for peace which we reproduce in full:
Lord God of peace, hear our prayer!
We have tried so many times and over so many eyars to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms. How many moments of hostility and darkness have we experienced; how much blood has been shed; how many lives have been shattered; how many hopes have been buried… But our efforts have been in vain. Now, Lord, come to our aid! Grant us peace, teach us peace; guide our steps in the way of peace. Open our eyes and our hearts, and give us the courage to say: “Never again war!”; “With war everything is lost.” Instil in our hearts the courage to take concrete steps to achieve peace. Lord, God of Abraham, God of the Prophets, God of Love, you created us and you call us to live as brothers and sisters. Give us the strength daily to be instruments of peace; enable us to see everyone who crosses our path as our brother or sister. Make us sensitive to the plea of our citizens who entreat us to turn our weapons of war into implements of peace, our trepidation into confident trust. and our quarrelling into forgiveness. Keep alive within us the flame of hope, so that with patience and perseverance we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation. In this way may peace triumph at last, and may the words “division”, “hatred” and “war” be banished from the heart of every man and woman. Lord, defuse the violence of our tongues and our hands. Renew our hearts and minds, so that the word which always brings us together will be “brother”, and our way of life will always be that of: Shalom, Peace, Salaam! Amen.
The Israeli President, who spoke immediately after the Pope, also insisted on the idea of a common family: “Two peoples – Israelis and Palestinians – still are aching for peace. The tears of mothers over their children are still etched in our hearts. We must put an end to the cries, to the violence, to the conflict. We all need peace. Peace between equals. (…) We are all equal before the Lord. We are all part of the human family. For without peace, we are not complete, and we have yet to achieve the mission of humanity.. (…) Peace does not come easy. We must toil with all our strengths to reach it. To reach it soon. Even if it requires sacrifice or compromise.”
Lastly, “O, Lord of Heaven and Earth, accept my prayer for the realization of truth, peace and justice in my country Palestine, the region,” prayed President Abbas, “so that our people and the peoples of the Middle East and the whole world would enjoy the fruit of peace, stability and coexistence.
We want peace for us and for our neighbours. We seek prosperity and peace of mind for ourselves and for others alike. O Lord, answer our prayers and make successful our endeavours for you are most just, most merciful, Lord of the Worlds.”
At the end of the meeting, the Pope and his guests symbolically planted an olive tree in the garden. The day came to an end with some private talks.
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