BETHLEHEM – During his visit to Bethlehem on Sunday, May 25, 2014, Pope Francis stopped at the wall separating Israel and Palestine. This unique gesture was immediately commented on by the international community and interested Palestinians and Israelis. Yet the Pope refrained from speaking, preferring to be silent and pray at the symbol of suffering.
The image in our memories will remain as one of the icons of this journey: Pope Francis rested his hands and head on the high concrete wall that separates Israel from Palestine.
Officially, the detour was provided for in the program of the Pope who had asked to go to the wall. But his sudden initiative to walk down and stop for almost five minutes to pray silently was surprising and moving.
On this portion of the wall, many graffiti are drawn. One in English, directly aimed at challenging Francis: “Pope, we need someone to speak of justice.”
Focusing his attention on the barrier erected between Palestine and Israel, “he began to pray for several minutes, says Archbishop Fouad Twal, who was at his side and very moved. He prayed, but in silence. He did not say anything, he did not take sides. Silence is often more eloquent than a few words or a speech.”
However it was not long before expected reactions interpreted the symbolic gesture. A political adviser to Mahmoud Abbas hailed “an eloquent and clear message to the world, especially in Israel: we cannot achieve peace as long as Israel continues to build racist separation walls between Palestinian and Israeli peoples”. Using the opposite view, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a tweet that the wall “has saved the lives of thousands of innocent people and that terrorism stopped upon completion of its construction.”
Breaking down the walls of our hearts
Whatever the excuse, a wall of separation remains, a restriction of freedom of movement, a rupture for families who are separated, and an injury for those who lose their land. On one or the other side, it reflects a difficulty to coexist, to live together. Various walls erected throughout the world are all objects of shame and suffering. There was the Berlin Wall, but there remain those of Cyprus, Korea, Ireland and others. They are examples of suffering, as also marks the one between Israel and Palestine.
The gesture, more than political, is without doubt a testament to the closeness of the Pope with the poor, with those who suffer from the absence of peace, the absence of relations. During his visit, the Holy Father repeatedly called for dialogue. His message of dialogue, since the beginning of his pontificate, is also an exhortation to bring down the walls of the heart. This is the message we can take from this symbolic stop: lowering the barriers of hearts and hoping to see concrete walls brought down. If this is the message, taken from the attitude of the Pope in silence, then it is to be embraced.
By: Pierre Loup de Raucourt