Crossing the great divides

Pope.at.River.Jordan

In a place where religion and politics are an explosive mix, it is a miracle that the Pope's visit went so well. His unscheduled actions caught the imagination of the world. He reminded us that religion should be a force for peace and reconciliation rather than of division and conflict, writes Thomas Reese SJ.

- National Catholic Reporter

Building bridges is not easy in the Middle East, but with patience and perseverance, the popes since the Second Vatican Council have reached out in dialogue to Muslims and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, when many thought it was a hopeless task.

Perhaps the papacy's bridges to these communities can provide a mutual path toward peace that goes through Rome. 

One highlight of Pope Francis's pilgrimage was the meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew I in the Holy Sepulcher. Both men like and respect each other and in their friendship witnessed to the respect and cooperation that should mark ecumenical relations.

They prayed for progress toward unity and for better understanding among Christians.

Building bridges was also the theme of his meeting with Muslim leaders in Jordan, Palestine and Israel. He complimented King Abdallah II for his work promoting mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims and commended Jordan for welcoming refugees.

He harshly condemned those who profit from selling arms to those in the Syrian conflict.

The Pope also met with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the Dome of the Rock. Here he referred to Abraham, whom Muslims, Jews, and Christians all see as 'a father in faith and a great example to be imitated.'

He pleaded with all communities who look to Abraham: 'May we respect and love one another as brothers and sisters! May we learn to understand the sufferings of others! May no one abuse the name of God through violence! May we work together for justice and peace!'

It was also a pastoral visit to the Christians of the Holy Land who have been besieged by both Muslim and Jewish extremists. He celebrated three Masses, first in Jordan, then in Bethlehem, and finally in the Cenacle, the place revered as the location of the Last Supper. 

The Pope layed a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism.

His words at the memorial of Yad Vashem were especially moving. They read like a Hebrew psalm and spoke of the 'boundless tragedy of the Holocaust.'

Jews were also touched by the reverence with which the Pope greeted survivors, kissing their hands.

It was when the Pope went off script that he caught people's attention. 

Read full article: Pope builds bridges of peace in the Holy Land (National Catholic Reporter)

MORE:

Pope Francis leaves legacy of ecumenical and interfaith hope in the Holy Land (Vatican Radio)

Fifty years later, pope and patriarch meet again in Jerusalem (The Catholic Weekly)

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