Pope Francis began his pilgrimage to the Middle East on Saturday with the declared intention to promote peace and inter-faith dialogue. Thus far, Pope Francis has visited Jordan and Palestinian territories, and will conclude his three-day trip in Jerusalem on Monday. The Pope’s visit to the Middle East has been highly anticipated in the wake of failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and as unrest from the Syrian Uprising continues to be felt throughout the region. Though concerned about the dwindling Christian population, Pope Francis has called upon the international communities to set aside differences in the interest of peace.
Yesterday in Jordan, the Pope spent time at the palace of King Abdullah II and thanked the leader for his concern for peace in the region. Currently, Jordan houses many refugees from Syria who have fled the civil conflict that has tormented the Syrians since January of 2011. Pope Francis urged the international community to “not leave Jordan alone” in its state of “humanitarian emergency.” There are now 1.3 million Syrians in Jordan, and Francis insisted that the country continue to receive aid and support from the international community. There have been more than 160,000 deaths as a result of the Syrian conflict.
One of the key features of Pope Francis’ trip is to meet with the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. Patriarch Bartholomew traveled to Francis’ investiture last March, in an event that marked the first time the spiritual head of Christian Orthodoxy had attended such an affair since the Great Schism of 1054. It has been reported that Patriarch Bartholomew I suggested a joint trip to the Holy Land following the investiture.
Pope Francis is set to meet with Jewish and Muslim leaders in Jerusalem to discuss the possibility of renewing peace talks. President Shimon Peres of Israel has attached great importance to the visit, referring to the leader of the Catholic Church as “a man of noble humility.” Following Mass today, Francis extended the invitation for President Peres and President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to join him in payer for the “gift of peace” in the Vatican. According to reports from Palestinian Legislative Council member, Hanan Ashrawi, President Abbas has accepted the invitation. Similarly, the Israeli President’s Office said that its president would support “any attempts to progress the cause of peace.” It has been reported that the Pope called for recognition of a Palestinian state while in Bethlehem, a parallel demand to the one he made on behalf of Israel.
That both sides reportedly have accepted the Pope’s invitation to convene at the Vatican is highly significant. It marks the possibility that peace talks can resume in a manner that Pope Francis hopes will bring “true agreement.” The leader of the Catholic Church said that he plans to continue to pursue peace tenaciously. The visit to the Middle East marks a significant step towards inter-faith dialogue that has at its core, the best interests for all those who share the land. The pilgrimage to the Vatican on behalf of Israel and the Palestinian Authority should prove to be just as highly anticipated as the Pope’s trip to the Holy Land.
By Courtney Anderson