Pope Francis in the Holy Land
A pilgrimage of prayer
The pilgrimage of Pope Francis on to the Holy Land (May 24-26 /2014) fed the desire for Christian unity and he encouraged Catholics to pray that God may help “heal the wounds” that divide the faithful.
Pope Francis declared his trip to the Holy Land of Jordan, Israel and the West Bank is 'strictly religious' and aimed at praying for peace in the region.
The Pope said “I give thanks to God. He led me to that blessed Land that has seen the historical presence of Jesus and where events fundamental to Judaism, Christianity and Islam took place”. At the tomb where Jesus Christ’s body was laid to rest and resurrected, we all felt the bitterness and suffering of the divisions that continue to exist between Christ's disciples, and this has really done great harm, harm to the heart.
The Pope explained to attendees that the pilgrimage commemorated the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. “This prophetic gesture on the جزء of the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople constituted a milestone in the arduous but promising path towards unity among all Christians, which has taken important steps since then.”
Pope Francis described his encounter with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as “the culmination of the visit,” recounting their prayers at the Holy Sepulcher with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Nourhan, archbishops and bishops from various Churches, and many lay faithful. “We are still divided; in that place, where the proclamation of the Resurrection resounds, where Jesus gives us life, we are still divided,” the Pope said. “But above all, in that celebration so rich in mutual brotherhood, esteem and affection, we strongly heard the voice of the Risen Good Shepherd who wishes to bring together all His sheep in one flock; we felt the desire to heal the wounds that are still open and to follow with tenacity the path to full communion.” and he added “Once more, like my predecessors, I ask forgiveness for what we have done to promote that division, and I pray that the Holy Spirit may help us to heal the wounds we have inflicted on other brethren” .
Also the pope spoke about efforts to encourage peace in the region. He said peace is “both a gift from God and a commitment for humankind.” He voiced “great compassion” for natives of the Holy Land, saying they have lived in war conditions “for too long.” He said he had encouraged Christians to make gestures of humility, fraternity and reconciliation, “The (Holy) Spirit enables us to assume these attitudes in our daily life, with people of different cultures and religions, and to thereby become peacemakers,” the Pope added “Peace is crafted day to day, and with an open heart to allow God’s gift to enter. “And he expressed the Church’s gratitude for Christians in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East, whom he called “courageous witnesses of hope and charity, 'salt and light' in the land.” The Pope added “Let us stay close to them! Let us pray for them, and for peace in the Holy Land and in the Middle East,” he said, calling for prayers for full Christian unity “so that the world may believe in God's love that in Jesus Christ came to live among us.”
The Holy Father pressed his palm against the graffiti-covered "separation wall", a Palestinian girl holding a flag by his side. It was, as his aides conceded later, a silent statement against a symbol of division and conflict. The powerful gesture was made minutes after an appeal to both sides to end a conflict that the pope said was "increasingly unacceptable".
The pope invited the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli president, Shimon Peres, to join him in Rome to meet and pray together for peace – an unprecedented papal intervention in the stalled peace process.
Pope Francis visited the holiest Christian sites in Jerusalem – including the Room of the Last Supper and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – amid a long-term decline in the population of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land. A survey conducted by Near East Consulting and released in April found that two-thirds of Palestinian Christians would like to emigrate.
The pope emphasized that “Peacemaking calls for courage, 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.
The Pope Francis went on saying “History teaches that our strength alone does not suffice. 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.”
Israel’s President Peres, Nobel Peace Prize winner, concurred that “Peace does not come easy. We must toil with all our strength to reach it. To reach it soon, even if it requires sacrifice and compromise….Two peoples—Israelis and Palestinians – are still 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.”
Praying to God, raising eyes to heaven, does not mean giving up efforts to build peace «by hand», every day with courage. The spiral of hatred and violence must be broken «with just one word: “brother”. But to say this word - said Pope Francis – we must all raise our eyes to heaven, and recognize each other as children of the one Father.
Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the basis of our hope, which is this: Christòs anesti! … We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so too every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed. This will be a grace of resurrection, of which we can have a foretaste even today… Every time we reflect on the future of the Church in the light of her vocation to unity, the dawn of Easter breaks forth!