A children’s choir sings for Pope Francis during a reception with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem May 26. (CNS photo/ Tsafrir Abayov, EPA)
The Holy Father is on his way home after an extraordinary and meaningful pilgrimage of three days to the Holy Land. One of the many provocative initiatives he made during his visit to Bethlehem and to Jerusalem was to invite President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) of Palestine and President Shimon Peres of Israel to “come to my house” in the Vatican on June 6 to be together and pray for peace. Both presidents readily accepted. Between now and June 6, I would like all of you to join me in daily prayer that God may guide and inspire the Holy Father and the two presidents so that the gift of peace, which ultimately is a gift of God, might be advanced by this most important invitation from our Holy Father.
Some will not understand what the Pope has done. In fact the NY Times this morning referred to the “collapsed Middle East peace process.” Their article saw the Pope’s invitation as an attempt to “reassert the Vatican ancient role as arbiter” in an area where “religious divisions overlay political impasse” and then, turning to “experts,” the NY Times illumined us by adding “joint prayer could not substitute for political negotiations and would not prompt a breakthrough.”
Yet is that not the very reason why the Pope’s initiative is so important? Who decided that the Middle East peace process has collapsed? Palestinians? Israelis? The western world and the U.S. initiatives have gone nowhere because of the current administration and the lack of credibility the administration and the Secretary of State have throughout the Middle East. But the U.S. and Mr. Kerry are not the only ones who can advance the cause for peace in the Middle East. No one claims that prayer alone can produce a concrete plan that addresses all the issues that need to be addressed. But as Saint John Paul II told us after the World Day of Prayer for Peace: “we have re-introduced into the peace process the necessity of including God and the responsibility we, men and women who believe, have to pray that God will guide us all.”
While that probably is outside the horizon of our friends of the NY Times, it is not beyond the ken of those who do believe in God, be they Jews, Christians or Muslims. This weekend a Christian leader whom King Abdullah called “the moral conscience of the world” invited two persons he calls his “brothers,” one a believing Jew, the other an observant Muslim, to come to his home and experience the fraternity of hospitality in the presence of the God who gave us life and who calls us all to be peacemakers. That is worth our support. That is worth our prayers. That is where ultimately we can find the political solutions that have to be based on mutual respect, human dignity, freedom, justice, and the commitment to the safety and security of every person and every nation. Let us join the Holy Father and make a novena of prayer for the success of the meeting of prayer for peace in the Vatican on June 6.