The Pope is inviting the leaders of Israel and Palestine to the Vatican for a “peace initiative” to discuss solutions to the conflict in the Middle East. Not so much a political discussion; more of a prayer retreat. His expressed desire is to join together in “heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace”.
Both leaders have reportedly accepted the invitation.
Oh to be a fly on the wall of that prayer encounter.
Pope Francis, who will be hosting, is Catholic of course. I don’t know the religious affiliations of the other two leaders, but I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that one is Jewish and one is Muslim. Each of them have a very personal view of who God is, and even of what prayer is. Most people do – those things are personal to many of us. There are those who may be surprised that the Pope thought to invite either them to a prayer meeting at his house at all; but he did. And the people invited – who may be just as surprised as the rest of us – accepted.
As a Pope, Francis is often the first to reach out, extending a hand of grace to those around him. And how many of us will turn away from an extended hand of grace, as long as it is offered genuinely?
On his trip today, he approached a separation barrier (erected by Israel), and reached out to touch it, with head bowed. Mustafa Barghouti observed, “The Pope did not only put his hand on a concrete wall. He put his hand on occupation. He put his hand on (an) apartheid system, on a system of separation, and discrimination, and oppression.”
I believe that the way he is the first to extend a hand – to offer help, hope and encouragement – is Christlike in its openness, its inclusiveness, and its genuine desire to help a fellow brother.
May we each be willing to extend a hand today.