Even just a few months ago who could have imagined such a picture of the Pope literally breaking ground for peace with leaders of Israel and Palestine as well as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople?
The Boston Globe reports “During an unprecedented Vatican summit on Sunday, Pope Francis led the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Territories not only in shaking hands, but also in a prayer for peace and in planting an olive tree, saying he hoped the symbolism would be “the beginning of a new journey.”
The pope styled the unique gathering as “exclusively religious,” but also as an expression of hope for an end to one of the world’s most protracted conflicts.
In his comments, Francis was direct: “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare.” According to the pontiff, only the tenacious “say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation.”
Francis issued the invitation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to join him in the Vatican for a prayer on May 25, during the pope’s three-day trip to the Middle East. Both men quickly accepted.
Shortly before the service began, the pontiff welcomed each president separately. He first greeted president Peres and 20 minutes later Abbas arrived to Santa Marta, the pope’s residency.
As they were headed to join Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the two presidents put differences aside and welcomed each other in a friendly hug. Afterwards, the four shared a short drive to the Vatican gardens.
The summit, which is a first for the Vatican, is almost universally seen as unlikely to have any immediate impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It comes after the Palestinians formed a new unity government backed by Hamas, seen by the Israelis as a terrorist organization, and after the Israelis announced approval of almost 1,500 new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, seen by the Palestinians as a provocation.
Undaunted, Pope Francis hosted tonight’s “invocation for peace” in the Vatican gardens in hopes of “reopening a path,” as a spokesman put it, “that had been closed.”
Be sure to read the full story and see the larger picture at The Boston Globe.
RomeReports offers a link to watch this three hour event.