During his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the pope of surprises gave the world an unexpected, powerful message.
On his way to celebrate Mass in Bethlehem, Pope Francis suddenly got out of his popemobile and walked toward the towering concrete Israeli-built barrier that divides Israel from the Israeli-occupied territory of the West Bank.
In a highly symbolic scene, with Israeli soldiers in a tower above him, Pope Francis touched the separation wall and prayed with his head bowed at precisely the spot where spray-painted messages cry out: “Pope we need some 1 to speak about Justice Bethlehem look like Warsaw ghetto” and “Free Palestine.” Then he touched his forehead to the wall.
“This wall is a sign of division, that something is not functioning right,” said Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi. And Pope Francis’ prayer there “signifies for me his desire for peace, for a world without walls.”
The pope reinforced his message with another surprise: inviting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to the Vatican to pray together. The three met for that prayer Sunday in the Vatican gardens, then, with Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, spiritual head of Orthodox Christians, planted an olive tree, a symbol of peace and hope. No walls separated them as they prayed together…
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. Please contact your diocesan newspaper and request that they carry Tony’s column. Tony is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.