Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew and the Presidents Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas pray for peace between Israelis and Palestinians: «Our children are tired and worn out by conflict. More than once we were close to peace, but evil, by various means, managed to prevent it.»
«It is our duty to ensure that the sacrifice of the victims of violence is not in vain, our children are weary and worn out by conflicts». Pope Francis invokes God for peace for the Holy Land, but accompanies his prayer with a powerful call to everyone’s personal responsibility, especially those who have the power to restart the negotiations. It is a hot and sunny afternoon, Israelis and Palestinians, represented by their two presidents Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, are together in the triangular garden next to the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican. Together to pray for peace, invited by the Bishop of Rome, in the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew.
The brief, but intense, ceremony provides distinct moments of prayer in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. Each prayer time is divided into three parts: an expression of praise to God for the gift of creation, and for having created men and women members of one human family; a request for forgiveness for sins against God and against our neighbors; an invocation to God to grant us the gift of peace in the Holy Land and make everyone capable of being peacemakers. Each moment is punctuated by a brief musical interlude.
«Creator of all things! - is the prayer sung by Rabbi David Rosen – Be it Your will to end war and bloodshed in the world ... Let there be no divisions among people, even in their hearts. Let that none of us ever dishonor anyone on earth, big or small, and that we may really deserve to abide by the commandment "love your neighbor as yourself”».
The invocation of the Christian community borrows the «simple prayer» of St. Francis and is pronounced in Arabic: "O Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: Where there is hatred, let me sow love, Where there is injury, let me sow pardon ... Bless the Holy Land, so from that blessed Land peace will reach the ends of the world».
Lastly, the Muslim prayer: "Grant us, O God, safety, peace, tranquility and faith, for us and for our people, our families ... and for all humanity and all nations, all the creatures of Thy great creation. O God, bring peace to the land of peace, remove injustice from the oppressed in this land, feed your people who are hungry, and protect them from fear, keep them away from evil and those who commit evil, from unjust aggressors».
Pope Francis is the first of the three to take the floor. He indicates that he is profoundly grateful to two presidents for accepting his invitation, “It is my hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a new journey where we seek the things that unite, so as to overcome the things that divide”. And he thanks the «Venerable Brother» Bartholomew, a presence that «is a great gift, a much-appreciated sign of support». Francis recalls that in the entire world, «countless people of different cultures, nations, languages and religions» are united in prayer.
«Dear President – says the Pope - our world is a legacy bequeathed to us from past generations, but it is also on loan to us from our children: our children who are weary, worn out by conflicts and yearning for the dawn of peace, our children who plead with us to tear down the walls of enmity and to set out on the path of dialogue and peace, so that love and friendship will prevail. Many, all too many, of those children have been innocent victims of war and violence, saplings cut down at the height of their promise. It is our duty to ensure that their sacrifice is not in vain».
«Peacemaking – he adds - calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity».
«History teaches – emphasizes Bergoglio - that our strength alone does not suffice. More than once we have been on the verge of peace, but the evil one, employing a variety of means, has succeeded in blocking it. That is why we are here, because we know and we believe that we need the help of God. We do not renounce our responsibilities, but we do call upon God in an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our people. We have heard a summons, and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word “brother”. But to be able to utter this word we have to lift our eyes to heaven and acknowledge one another as children of one Father».
«Open our eyes and our hearts – is the Holy Father’s prayer to God - and give us the courage to say: “Never again war!”; “With war everything is lost”. And ban these words from the heart of every man: division, hatred, war!».
President Peres thanked Francis for this «exceptional invitation». He recalls that «the Holy City of Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish people». He recognizes that the Pope, during his visit to the Holy Land, «he touched us with the warmth of his heart, the sincerity of his intentions, his modesty, his kindness. You touched the people’s hearts – regardless of their faith or nation. You emerged as a bridge-builder of brotherhood and peace. We are all in need of the inspiration which accompanies your character and your way».
«Two peoples – Israelis and Palestinians – still are aching for peace – says the Israeli President - The tears of mothers over their children are still etched in our hearts. We must put an end to the cries, to the violence, to the conflict. We all need peace. Peace between equals». Peace, admits Peres «does not come easy. We must toil with all our strengths to reach it. To reach it soon. Even if it requires sacrifice or compromise». Even when peace seems distant, «we must pursue it to bring it closer».
«And if we pursue peace - he concludes - with perseverance with faith, we will reach it…. And we can – together and now, Israelis and Palestinians – convert our noble vision to a reality of welfare and prosperity. It is within our power to bring peace to our children. This is our duty, the holy mission of parents».
Lastly, Mahmoud Abbas. He, too, thanked the Pope for the invitation and for the recent visit to the Holy Land, «and in specific to our Holy city Jerusalem and to Bethlehem». «O, Lord of Heaven and Earth, accept my prayer for the realization of truth, peace and justice in my country Palestine, the region, and the globe as a whole. I beseech you, Oh Lord, to make prosperous and promising the future of our people, and freedom in our sovereign and independent state; Grant, O Lord, our region and its people security, safety and stability. Save our blessed city Jerusalem».
Palestinian President recalled the words of St. John Paul II: «If peace is realized in Jerusalem, peace will be witnessed in the whole world». And concludes: «We ask You, O Lord, for peace in the Holy Land, Palestine, and Jerusalem together with its people. We call on you to make Palestine and Jerusalem in particular a secure land for all the believers, grant us security and safety, and alleviate the suffering of my people in hometown and Diaspora … We want peace for us and for our neighbors».
After having have planted an olive tree together, as they had arrived, Francis, Peres, Abbas and Bartholomew leave the garden and enter the Casina Pio IV for one last moment together. The sun's rays still illuminate the background the Dome of St. Peter's in the background in the last hours of the Sunday of Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit who «is harmony» as Bergoglio likes to repeat. The process of peace in the Holy Land can start again from the helpless and sincere prayer of men of peace gathered in the home of the Pope, if they will be capable of responding responsibly to the expectations of their people.