Pope Francis Visits Israel With a Message for All
Although Pope Francis came to the Middle East as an emissary of the Vatican and representative of the world’s Catholics, his message stressing inclusion and cooperation was more global than partisan. By the end of his three-day tour, he left an impression of himself as a world leader of humanity because he acted like one.
Pope Francis’ point was that only through interfaith respect, dialogue and friendship can we hope to build a better world, and that each individual can make a difference. His message was clear, consistent and powerful, and he reinforced it repeatedly in word and deed. Rather than just making heartfelt but abstract speeches, he went one step further. He invited Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Sheik Omar Abboud, two friends with whom he regularly collaborated when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, to join his papal delegation. These three friends showed the world what it could look like when Muslim, Jew and Christian lead by example.
He met with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. With all three, he stressed common ground and shared monotheistic theological heritage. He spoke of the significance of Christianity’s Jewish roots and the role of Abraham in Christianity and Islam. He spoke of the importance of free access to Jerusalem’s holy sites and condemned religious intolerance, persecution and violence. To an audience that included the grand mufti of Jerusalem, he declared, “May no one abuse the name of God through violence!” Again and again, he stressed universal themes common to all.
We are not so nave to think a papal visit would make everyone in Israel happy, nor could it replace top-down policy negotiations. Nonetheless, a bottom-up approach that emphasizes redefining personal relations on the basis of empathy and communication may just have a better chance at creating the basic infrastructure for a culture of peace. As John F. Kennedy said, “Let us not rest all our hopes on parchment and on paper, let us strive to build peace, a willingness to work for peace in the hearts and minds of all of our people.”
Pope Francis’ words and actions were a step in this constructive direction.
This editorial was originally published in the Jewish Journal on June 5, 2014.