VATICAN GARDENS – Sunday, June 8, 2014, Solemnity of Pentecost. An unprecedented event, the prayer of Presidents Peres and Abbas with the Holy Father and Patriarch Bartholomew. A prayer in three parts, in several languages, which ended with a warm embrace and the planting of an olive tree of peace, on neutral ground, to reinvigorate the dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. For Bishop Shomali, the event was itself “a small miracle.”
The prayer service was held at the end of the day, as at Pentecost – “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear… Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” (John 20, 19). A single prayer in three parts, rose heavenward imploring God for the gift of peace. All in the balmy evening and in the serenity of a garden, where everything can start again.
Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew, President Abbas and President Peres, accompanied by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, went together to the house Saint Martha where they were received, continuing up to the gardens of Vatican in a single convoy, in a humble small white van. The place chosen for the meeting was a large piece of triangular greenery in the heart of the Vatican gardens, between the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Vatican Museums, where the delegations of the three religions waited (15 to 20 people each, mostly from Jerusalem), including Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Imam Omar Abboud, Argentine friends of the Pope. Also present for the occasion were the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal and the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III.
The Pope and the two presidents sat on chairs, while an interfaith orchestra interpreted the Simon Barber’s Adagio for Strings in B minor.
The three religions each took a time of prayer for peace, in chronological order, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, each time with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise, requesting forgiveness of God, and finally a plea for peace.
The latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal prayed during the first moment, invocating “Creator God, Father of us all, who has placed us in the Holy Land, especially blessed among all the lands because there the history of our salvation has unfolded. May our shared thanksgiving for all Your blessings remind us that we are brothers and sisters, beloved of One God our Father, through Christ our Lord.”
Our efforts have been in vain. Now, Lord, come to our aid!
Two weeks after the visit of Pope Francis in the Holy Land, the three were present. Present at Francis’ invitation to the Vatican to pray together for peace in the Holy Land. The Pope did not fail to thank His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew and Presidents Peres and Abbas who “accepted (his) invitation to come here together to call upon God for the gift of peace” while adding “It is my hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a new journey where we seek the things that unite, so as to overcome the things that divide.”
The Holy Father concluded his prayer by an urgent invocation: “We have tried so many times and over so many years 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”. Instill 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 (…).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.”
At the end of the prayer meeting, the Pope, and the two presidents spoke in turn and exchanged a sign of peace. The symbolic handshake, as expected, was turned spontaneously into a graceful embrace, by the warmth of the Argentine Pope.
Then the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch and the two presidents each vigorously took a great shovel to plant together an olive tree for peace at the place of prayer.
Jerusalem, City of Peace
Both the Israeli and Palestinian presidents did not fail to place, at the heart of their prayer, Jerusalem, the holy city, a stumbling block in the negotiations. The Israeli President, Shimon Peres, was presented from the outset as a man of the Holy City, Jerusalem, the “beating heart of the Jewish people.” “In Hebrew, he stressed, the word Jerusalem and the word peace have the same root.” Repeatedly citing Scripture, Shimon Peres said he was convinced that Israelis and Palestinians can bring peace to their children’s well-being and prosperity. “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. 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.”
The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, began meanwhile “In the Name of God, the Most Gracious and the Most Merciful”, begging him to save Jerusalem, calling it “our blessed city: the first Kiblah, the second Holy Mosque… with all that surrounds it”. He prayed on behalf of the Palestinian people – Muslims, Christians and Samaritans – “who are craving for a just peace, dignified living, and liberty, I beseech you, Oh Lord, to make prosperous and promising the future of our people, and freedom in our sovereign and independent state.” Citing John Paul II, he stressed that “if peace is realized in Jerusalem, peace will be witnessed in the whole world”. “We ask you, O Lord, he continued, to make Palestine and Jerusalem in particular a secure land for all the believers, and a place for prayer and worship for the followers of the three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, Islam.” Mahmoud Abbas then asked for a just peace, stability and co-existence for all peoples of the Middle East.
For Bishop Shomali, Latin Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem, “as a prayer meeting, it was in itself a small miracle, especially since it explicitly targeted peace between Israel and Palestine, and that the delegations were mainly from Jerusalem”. “The great miracle would be that the same prayer can take place in Jerusalem, it would be the great miracle of Pentecost.”
By: Myriam Ambroselli