JERUSALEM – A year ago, between 24 and 26 May 2014, Pope Francis came on a visit to the diocese, first in Jordan, then in Palestine, before winding up with Jerusalem and Israel. Marked by gestures and impressive words, this pilgrimage had stirred hope on many levels, such as the ecumenical dialogue or the progress of the peace process. A year later, what is remaining of all that ?
A year after the trip of Pope Francis, more images than words may still remain in the memory of all those who welcomed the Holy Father in Jordan, in Palestine and in Israel. Appeals for peace remain linked to strong gestures: a hug with a rabbi and a Moslem near the Wailing Wall, a turn round the separation wall between Israel and Palestine, a gathering in Jordan with handicapped and refugees, an eloquent speech at Yad Vashem …
Those who expected that Pope Francis pilgrimage may regenerate, immediately and significantly, the peace process were dismayed by seeing a new war launched on Gaza, slightly more than a month after the Holy Father’s first trip to the Middle East. The absence of tangible signs was to be expected since the action of one man cannot contribute to the prevalence of peace, absent since 80 years.
From the Vatican Pope Francis acts
Conversely, emotions raised by the meeting between Francis and Bartholomew, Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, at the Holy Sepulchre, went forth, entailing two official encounters between the two Heads of Churches. One at the Vatican in presence of Mahmoud Abbas and Shimeon Peres during a prayer for peace. The other in Turkey for a trip and an ecumenical encounter with Bartholomew.
Moreover, a year after a powerful pilgrimage, the Holy Father celebrated the canonization of two Palestinian saints, Mariam Bawardi and Marie-Alphonsine on 17 May 2015, two days after having recognized the State of Palestine and having concluded a bilateral agreement. “The links with the Holy Land are held strong, says Mgr Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem ; and if political hope weakens hope coming from Heaven goes stronger”.
A year later, the Bishop warns those who would like to see very soon concrete fruits coming out of this visit : “The Pope does not hold a “magic” stick of Moses but he possesses the arm of prayer. At the time of saying prayers at the Vatican with Presidents Abbas and Peres, a sapling of olive tree was planted : symbol of the tree that does not bear fruits before many years”. Therefore, while giving importance to planning encounters and events at the Vatican, Pope makes the Church responsible for peace, and he urges her to prayer. Mgr Shomali adds further: “If peace prevails, it will be to the credit of us all. But if it fails, it will be the mistake of us all”.
A year later, it is an evidence : Pope Francis travelled as Head of the Catholic Church, not as a politician as some may have thought it or affirmed it. He stressed on the efficiency of prayer more than on the efficiency of negotiations. It is always as a religious leader that he acts today from the Vatican, determined to support the Near East while involving all Christians. Ideas and initiatives are not lacking : a meeting at the Vatican with Apostolic Nuncios in Egypt, the Holy Land, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria and in Turkey in October ; an ordinary consistory for the Middle East on 20 October 2014 and a Letter to Christians of the Middle East, on Christmas. If fruits need time to ripe, the hope of those who pray will not remain in vain.
Pierre Loup de Raucourt