Pope Francis in Bethlehem, stuns the world, by inviting Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli President, Shimon Peres, to join him, in his home in the Vatican, to pray together for peace
Pope Francis took the world by surprise at midday on Sunday, May 25, when at the end of mass in Manger Square, Bethlehem, he invited the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli President, Shimon Peres, to join him, at his home in the Vatican, to pray together for peace.
Earlier that morning, he stopped and prayed at the Wall, which Israel insists it built for self-protection, but which has separated Israelis from Palestinians, divided communities, and caused enormous resentment and hate among the Palestinians. He prayed at the wall for about 5 minutes and the put his forehead against the wall. The action was more eloquent that a thousand speeches.
Earlier that Sunday morning he had a meeting with the Palestinian leadership at Bethlehem, before celebrating mass for 10,000 delighted Christians in Manger Square, Bethlehem, he made a passionate plea for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel. He also expressed his hope to return again to visit Galilee.
He arrived in Palestine from Jordan by helicopter, early May 25. His two friends from Buenos Aires, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and the Muslim Omar Abboud accompanied him here. After meeting the Palestinian leadership, in Bethlehem, 15 minutes’ drive from Jerusalem, he drove by car to Manger Square where 10,000 Christians from the West Bank, Gaza and Galilee, together with migrant workers from Asia and Africa, and pilgrims from Shanghai gave him a rapturous welcome, waving flags, scarves, banners, and singing. The Palestinian President was also present.
In his homily, at the Mass of the Nativity concelebrated with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, and the bishops of the Holy Land, he thanked God “for this great grace”, and then focused on the Christ child and the world’s children.
“The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, is the sign given by God to those who awaited salvation, and he remains forever the sign of God’s tenderness and presence in our world”, the Pope declared.
Today too, he said, “children are a sign. They are a sign of hope, a sign of life, but also a “diagnostic” sign, a marker indicating the health of families, society and the entire world.”
“Wherever children are accepted, loved, cared for and protected, the family is healthy, society is more healthy and the world is more human”, he told the crowd that included very many children.
The Child of Bethlehem was frail, he said, “like all newborn children. He cannot speak and yet he is the Word made flesh who came to transform the hearts and lives of all men and women. This Child, like every other child, is vulnerable; he needs to be accepted and protected.”
Today too, the Pope said, “children need to be welcomed and defended, from the moment of their conception.” Sadly, he noted, “in this world of ours, with all its highly developed technology, great numbers of children continue to live in inhuman situations, on the fringes of society, in the peripheries of great cities and in the countryside. All too many children continue to be exploited, maltreated, enslaved, prey to violence and illicit trafficking. Still too many children live in exile, as refugees, at times lost at sea, particularly in the waters of the Mediterranean.”
In the face of such a situation, he said, “we feel shame before God, before God who became a child.”
Pope Francis is a master at linking the Gospel of Jesus to the modern world, and he did so again in Manger Square when he told those present and the hundreds of millions worldwide that were following thanks to the presence of some 1,000 TV, Radio and print journalists, “We have to ask ourselves: Who are we, as we stand before the Child Jesus? Who are we, standing as we stand before today’s children?”
He put some pointed questions: “Are we like Mary and Joseph, who welcomed Jesus and care for him with the love of a father and a mother? Or are we like Herod, who wanted to eliminate him? Are we like the shepherds, who went in haste to kneel before him in worship and offer him their humble gifts? Or are we indifferent? Are we perhaps people who use fine and pious words, yet exploit pictures of poor children in order to make money? Are we ready to be there for children, to “waste time” with them? Are we ready to listen to them, to care for them, to pray for them and with them? Or do we ignore them because we are too caught up in our own affairs?”
Today, he said, “children are crying, they are crying a lot, and their crying challenges us. In a world which daily discards tons of food and medicine there are children, hungry and suffering from easily curable diseases, who cry out in vain.”
“In an age which insists on the protection of minors”, he added, “there is a flourishing trade in weapons which end up in the hands of child-soldiers, there is a ready market for goods produced by the slave labor of small children. Their cry is stifled: they must fight, they must work, they cannot cry! But their mothers cry for them, as modern-day Rachels: they weep for their children, and they refuse to be consoled (cf. Mt 2:18).”
Pope Francis concluded by telling his Palestinian and global audience, “The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, every child who is born and grows up in every part of our world, is a diagnostic sign indicating the state of health of our families, our communities, our nation. Such a frank and honest diagnosis can lead us to a new kind of lifestyle where our relationships are no longer marked by conflict, oppression and consumerism, but fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation, solidarity and love.”
In a significant gesture, at the sign of peace, Pope Francis embraced president Abu Mazen.
Earlier in the morning, at the Presidential Palace in Bethlehem, Pope Francis thanked the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas for his warm welcome.
“You are known as a man of peace and a peacemaker”, he told him in a speech that for the most part focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that also explicity recognized “the Palestinian State”, as most states in the world have done since the United Nations General Assembly recognized it in 2012.
“For decades the Middle East has known the tragic consequences of a protracted conflict which has inflicted many wounds so difficult to heal”, he said, and even in the absence of violence “the climate of instability and a lack of mutual understanding have produced insecurity, the violation of rights, isolation and the flight of entire communities, conflicts, shortages and sufferings of every sort.” He expressed his “closeness to those who suffer most from this conflict”.
He went on express his heartfelt conviction “that the time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable”. For the good of all, he said, “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 the rights of every individual, and on mutual security.”
Addressing the Palestinian leadership, but also with an eye to the Israeli leadership in Jerusalem, Pope Francis declared with utmost clarity: “The time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good, the courage to forge a peace which rests on the acknowledgment by all of the right of two States to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders.”
He expressed the hope that all sides “will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement, and that peace will be pursued with tireless determination and tenacity”.
Peace, he reminded them, “will bring countless benefits for the peoples of this region and for the world as a whole”. For this reason, “it must resolutely be pursued, even if each side has to make certain sacrifices.”
In Ramallah, 45 kms from Bethlehem where the Prince of Peace was born. Pope Francis prayed “that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and their respective leaders will undertake this promising journey of peace with the same courage and steadfastness needed for every journey.” He told them that “Peace in security and mutual trust will become the stable frame of reference for confronting and resolving every other problem, and thus provide an opportunity for a balanced development, one which can serve as a model for other crisis areas.”
He also reminded the Palestinian leadership that an active Christian community (of some 40,000 faithful) in their homeland “contributes significantly to the common good of society, sharing in the joys and sufferings of the whole people. Christians desire to continue in this role as full citizens, along with their fellow citizens, whom they regard as their brothers and sisters.”
He acknowledged “the good relations” that exist between the Holy See and the State of Palestine, and his appreciation for the efforts being made to draft an agreement between the parties “regarding various aspects of the life of the Catholic community in this country, with particular attention to religious freedom.” He emphasized the importance of “this fundamental human right” which “is one of the essential conditions for peace, fraternity and harmony” and “tells the world that it is possible and necessary to build harmony and understanding between different cultures and religions.
Religious freedom, the Pope said, “also testifies to the fact that, since the important things we share are so many, it is possible to find a means of serene, ordered and peaceful coexistence, accepting our differences and rejoicing that, as children of the one God, we are all brothers and sisters.”
Pope Francis concluded by praying that God may bless and protect the Palestinian President and grant him “the wisdom and strength needed to continue courageously along the path to peace, so that swords will be turned into ploughshares and this land will once more flourish in prosperity and concord.”