MAY 24, 2014
Pope, Arriving in Holy Land, Calls for Religious Freedom in Middle East
Pope Francis began a densely packed visit to the Holy Land with a call for religious freedom in the Middle East, including respect for the right to change one’s religion. “Religious freedom is, in fact, a fundamental human right, and I cannot fail to express my hope that it will be upheld throughout the Middle East and the entire world,” the Pope said May 24 in a speech to local dignitaries shortly after his arrival in Jordan.
Starting his fast-paced three-day visit, which was scheduled to take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Pope said Jordanian Christians, who make up less than 2 percent of the country’s population, “are able to profess their faith peaceably, in a climate of respect for religious freedom,” and he thanked Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the country’s Muslim community for their support of interreligious dialogue with Christians and Jews.
A number of Middle Eastern governments, however, prohibit or restrict the practice of any religion besides Islam. Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis said the right to religious freedom necessarily includes the “freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public.”
In his welcoming remarks to the Pope, the king deplored the “terrible cost of sectarian and interreligious conflict” and said “Arab Christians are an integral part of the Middle East.” The king also spoke of the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying the “status quo of justice denied to the Palestinians, fear of the other, fear of change — these are the ways to mutual ruin, not mutual respect.”
At Amman Mass, Pope Calls on Christians to Promote Peace
Celebrating Mass on his first day in the Holy Land, Pope Francis said hope for peace in a region torn by sectarian conflicts comes from faith in God. “The way of peace is strengthened if we realize that we are all of the same stock and members of one human family, if we never forget that we have the same heavenly father and are all his children, made in his image and likeness,” the Pope said May 24 in his homily at Amman’s International Stadium. “Diversity of ideas and persons should not trigger rejection or prove an obstacle, for variety always enriches,” he told the congregation of some 30,000 people. “We ought, therefore, to show concrete signs of humility, fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation. “Peace is not something which can be bought,” the Pope said. “It is a gift to be sought patiently and to be crafted through the actions, great and small, of our everyday lives.” The Pope acknowledged the presence in the congregation of “many Christian refugees from Palestine, Syria and Iraq,” asking them to take his greetings to their families and communities, “and assure them of my closeness.”
At River Jordan, Pope Meets Suffering, Speaks against Arms Trade
Jordan’s powerful and marginalized joined together at the banks of the River Jordan to welcome Pope Francis at the site believed to be where Jesus was baptized. Jordan’s King Abdullah II, his wife, Queen Rania, and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, the monarch’s personal representative and special adviser on religious matters, welcomed the pontiff to an intimate setting of reflection, followed by testimonials of courage in the face of life’s difficulties. There, near the banks of the River Jordan the Pope prayed, spoke and blessed Syrian and Iraqi refugees sheltering in Jordan, along with Jordanian orphans, the sick, and the disabled who shared their stories.
The Pope signed a welcome book, his message reading, “I ask the all-powerful and merciful God to teach us all to walk in his presence with our souls and feet uncovered and our hearts open to divine mercy and love for our brothers and sisters. In that way, God will be all in all and peace will reign. Thank you for offering humanity this place of witness. Francis. 24.5.2014.”
In a papal address, Pope Francis hit hard on those who perpetrate and perpetuate wars, instead saying that peace must be pursued particularly in the troubled Middle East region. “Arms are the main reason for the war. … We pray for those making and selling arms, that compassion fill their hearts,” he said. He singled out Syria, in desperate need of healing and peace. “We are profoundly affected by the tragedies and suffering of our times, particularly those caused by ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. I think particularly of Syria, rent by nearly three years of civil strife, which has led to countless deaths and forced millions to flee and seek exile in other countries,” he said.
MAY 25, 2014 – Bethlehem, West Bank
In Bethlehem, near Site of Christ’s Birth, Pope Speaks Out for Children
Celebrating Mass a few steps from the spot traditionally believed to the birthplace of Jesus, Pope Francis said that the way society treats its young reveals its moral character. Children are a “diagnostic sign, a marker indicating the health of families, society and the entire world,” the Pope said May 25 in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity. “Wherever children are accepted, loved, cared for and protected, the family is healthy, society is healthier and the world is more human.” The Bethlehem Mass was the only Mass for local Christians during Pope Francis’ two days in the West Bank and Israel, the second and third legs of a three-day journey to the Holy Land. The Mass was limited to about 10,000 people, but the crowd was enthusiastic, and many arrived while it was still dark to get a spot. Pope Francis told those gathered in the square that “children need to be welcomed and defended, from the moment of their conception.” He said “all too many children continue to be exploited, maltreated, enslaved, prey to violence and illicit trafficking. Still too many children live in exile, as refugees, at times lost at sea, particularly in the waters of the Mediterranean,” he said, in apparent reference to African refugees trying to make their way to Europe. “Today, in acknowledging this, we feel shame before God, before God who became a child.”
After the Mass, the Pope met with Palestinian refugee children from four different camps in the West Bank. He told them not to let the past hinder them, but to always look to the future.
“At this site, where the Prince of Peace was born, I would like to invite you, President Mahmud Abbas, and President Shimon Peres, to come together and join me in intense prayer, asking God for the gift of peace. I offer my home at the Vatican to host this meeting of prayer.”
MAY 25, 2014 – JERUSALEM, Israel
Fifty Years Later, Pope and Patriarch Meet Again
Half a century after a historic encounter between their predecessors, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew met in the same place to seek inspiration for Christian unity at the site of Christ’s death and resurrection. “We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so, too, every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed,” the Pope said May 25 during a prayer service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. “Every time we put behind us our longstanding prejudices and find the courage to build new fraternal relationships, we confess that Christ is truly risen.” The Pope also spoke of an “ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism of blood,” which brings Christians closer through the common experience of persecution. When others kill Christians, he noted, they do not ask if they are Catholic or Orthodox. Patriarch Bartholomew said Jesus’ tomb sends the message that “history cannot be programmed; that the ultimate word in history does not belong to man, but to God. In vain did the guards of secular power watch over this tomb. In vain did they place a very large stone against the door of the tomb, so that none could roll it away.” The Patriarch said the tomb also encourages Christians to “love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions.” Their prayer service marked the 50th anniversary of an encounter in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. The earlier meeting, which led both Churches to lift the mutual excommunications that started the East-West schism in 1054, opened the modern period of ecumenical dialogue.
“We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so too every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed”
MAY 26, 2014 – JERUSALEM, Israel
On Last Morning in Holy Land, Pope Reaches Out to Muslims, Jews
Pope Francis spent the last morning of his three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land meeting with Muslims and Jews and calling for closer relations among the three major monotheistic religions as the basis for peace in the region.
At his first appearance May 26, Pope Francis toured the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, sacred to Muslims as the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven, and spoke to Muslim leaders. Addressing his listeners as “brothers,” the Pope pointed to Abraham as a common model for Muslims, Jews and Christians, since he was a pilgrim who left “his own people and his own house in order to embark on that spiritual journey to which God called him.”
In his remarks to the Pope, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, accused Israel of impeding Muslims’ access to Jerusalem’s holy sites.
Francis then visited the Western Wall, the only standing part of the foundation of the Second Temple, destroyed in A.D. 70. The Pope stood for more than a minute and a half with his right hand against the wall, most of the time in silent prayer, before reciting the Our Father. Then he followed custom by leaving a written message inside a crack between two blocks. The Pope also visited a memorial to victims of terrorism where he prayed with his hand against the stone. After a brief wreath-laying at the grave of Theodor Herzl, father of the Zionist movement that led to Israel’s founding, Francis visited the Yad Vashem Memorial to victims of the Holocaust. Francis then visited the two chief rabbis of Israel, leaders of the country’s Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities.
“Never again, Lord, never again! ‘Adam, where are you?’ Here we are Lord, shamed by what mankind, created in Your own image and likeness, is capable of doing. Remember us in Your mercy”