Pope Francis leaves for the Holy Land tomorrow to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, told Vatican Radio May 22nd that the fruits of Pope Francis’ visit will most likely be those of “encounter” that turns into “witness.”
The Cardinal expressed his hope that the Pope’s meetings with the various Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities in this “particularly troubled land,” can “help all leaders and all people of good will to take bold decisions in the way of peace.”
The Vatican official said that in its dialogue with Israelis and Palestinians, the Holy See wishes to see “the right of Israel to exist and to enjoy peace and security within internationally recognized borders; the right of the Palestinian people to have a sovereign and independent homeland, the right to move freely, the right to live in dignity.”
Cardinal Parolin said that during the visit, Pope Francis will insist on these issues, in line with Holy See policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and urge that “the sacred and universal character of the city of Jerusalem, its cultural and religious heritage” be recognized so that it may be “a place of pilgrimage for the followers of the three monotheistic religions .”
The highlight of Pope Francis’s pilgrimage will be an ecumenical meeting between the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople on Sunday at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre to recall the historic meeting between their predecessors Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras.
Cardinal Parolin observed that “ecumenism was one of the acquisitions of the Second Vatican Council,” that came after a lengthy process also within the Catholic Church. He described the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Athenagoras as “fundamental , crucial” to this ecumenical journey, explaining that “sometimes gestures are needed more than words” and are “more eloquent than words.”
The Secretary of State said he hopes the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew will revive “this flame, this enthusiasm for the ecumenical journey” and all the initiatives already underway. After all, he mused, it is “this spirit of enthusiasm and passion for unity” for which Jesus so ardently prayed at the Last Supper.
Observing the difficult times in which Christians are living in Jordan, Palestine and Israel, Cardinal Parolin expressed his certainty that it will be “a time of joy and comfort to all Christians living in the Holy Land.”
The Pope, he said, “wants to underline, in his direct encounter with them, two things: that these Christians are living stones, and that without their presence, the Holy Land and the Holy Places themselves are likely to be transformed into museums, as we often say.”
Their presence, he continued, “assures us that there is a living Christian community and a living presence of the Risen Lord.” Besides this “ecclesial dimension,” Cardinal Parolin pointed out that the Christians of the Middle East and the Holy Land play a key role in the societies and countries where they live. “They sincerely want to put themselves at the disposal of their fellow citizens to build together a free, fair and democratic homeland.”