Francis is reasserting the Papacy's ancient role

Stateman

The New York Times surmises from his pilrimage to the Mid-East that Pope Francis is seeking to reassert the Vatican's ancient role as an arbiter of international diplomacy.

- By Jodi Rudoren, Jim Yardley and Isabel Kershner.

Pope Francis inserted himself directly into the collapsed Middle East peace process on Sunday, issuing an invitation to host the Israeli and Palestinian presidents for a prayer summit meeting at his apartment in the Vatican, in an overture that has again underscored the broad ambitions of his Papacy.

'There is a need to intensify efforts and initiatives aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice, on the recognition of rights for every individual, and on mutual security,' Francis said. Peace 'must resolutely be pursued, even if each side has to make certain sacrifices.'

Presidents Shimon Peres of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority accepted the pope’s invitation to pray together; Mr. Abbas’s spokesman said the meeting would take place June 6.

Though the meeting is likely to be more symbolic than substantive — Israel’s presidency is ceremonial and Mr Peres leaves office soon — it could have atmospheric significance for a peace process that has all but completely broken down.

More broadly, Pope Francis’ actions on Sunday posed a striking example of how, barely a year into his Papacy, he is seeking to reassert the Vatican’s ancient role as an arbiter of international diplomacy.

Last September, an estimated 100,000 people took part in a four-hour peace vigil for Syria at St Peter’s Square as the United States was contemplating military strikes against the Syrian government.

The Pope influenced the political debate in the United States and beyond with his outspoken denunciation of global inequality and his critique of global capitalism.

During his visit to the Vatican in March, Mr Obama lavished praise on the Pope as he sought to align his own political agenda on issues such as raising the minimum wage with that of Francis, whose global popularity, for the moment, seems to transcend religion.

'If you look around the world, there are very few political leaders who are relatively untainted,' said Philip Jenkins, a history professor who teaches at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. 'People want to believe there is somebody good and charismatic, and a good authority figure, out there.'

Read full article: Pope in Mideast, Invites Leaders to Meet on Peace (The New York Times)

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