"There are gestures that come from the heart, in that precise instant ..." This is how Pope Francis answered two weeks ago after being asked how that tribute, with a kiss on the hand of the survivors of the Holocaust in Yad Vashem, was born. And it is in this way that, during a short trip to the Holy Land last May, Bergoglio had the idea of bringing together in prayer the leaders of the two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian. The dream could not come true on-site, but the Pope did not give up, and so he invited Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas to his home.
The prayer to God to grant peace in the Holy Land, which took place yesterday evening in the Vatican, is a new and unprecedented gesture. John Paul II, after September 11, had invited religious leaders to Assisi. But he had not brought them to pray in the same place where there is fighting. More than the words, which however are significant, the most striking part of the ceremony that took part in the triangular garden with the Dome looming in the background, was the silence, the participation, the images. Something truly «powerful », said a spokesman of President Peres. A celebration organized with attention to every detail by the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Pizzaballa, with equal space for the three religions professed by those who live in Israel and Palestine. Three distinct prayers, without confusion, but accompanied by many believers around the world, all spiritually present beside the four elders who with blue metal shovels planted a small olive tree, symbol of peace and a plant in its own way emblematic: it takes many years before bearing fruit.
An unprecedented gesture, that of yesterday evening, even for Christians. Joined in the embrace between Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, both at the center of the scene at the moment of the final peace greeting. A minority, that of Christians, increasingly internally reconciled, that can play a key role in bringing peace to Israelis and Palestinians.
Francis wanted to throw a stone into a stagnant negotiation process, interrupted after the decision of Abu Mazen to create a national unity government with Hamas leaders, which was followed by the go-ahead announced by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for thousands of new settlements in the West Bank. The Bishop of Rome did not act as a politician, he brought the two presidents to pray, as men of faith, in the shadow of the Dome of St. Peter. There are many tensions and conflicts that remain open. In their speeches both Peres and Abu Mazen referred to the uniqueness of Jerusalem as the holy city of their respective faiths. But the Israeli president, nearing the end of his tenure, also recognized that peace must be built even «if it requires sacrifices or compromises».
Francis did not act as diplomat or mediator. However, he spoke clear words about the numerous innocent child victims of war and violence: «It is our duty to ensure that their sacrifice not be in vain». «To make peace - he added - it takes courage, much more than to make war. It takes courage to say yes to meeting and no to confrontation; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to the observance of pacts and no to provocations; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. For all this, it takes courage, great fortitude».
Praying to God, raising eyes to heaven, does not mean giving up efforts to build peace «by hand», every day with courage. To have prayed in the same place, with rabbis, priests and imams, with representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, on the day when Christians celebrate Pentecost – the Feast of the Holy Spirit who is «harmony» as always, recalls Bergoglio - is a calling and a responsibility. The spiral of hatred and violence must be broken «with just one word: “brother”. But to say this word - said Francis – we must all raise our eyes to heaven, and recognize each other as children of the one Father».