Pope Francis’ belief in the power of prayer was understood in September 2013, when he organized a universal spiritual moment to prevent the situation in Syria from escalating into a world war.
Now the Bishop of Rome is trying again, and asks the “Prince of Peace” directly for peace between Israel and Palestine that diplomatic-political strategies have, for so many years, failed to attain.
And in this invocation he involves Presidents Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres, guests whom two Sundays ago, during his visit to the Holy Land, he invited to his “home” in the Vatican for a prayer meeting.
This initiative, re-christened “Invocation for Peace”, will be held in the evening of Pentecost Sunday, June 8. Briefing reporters at the Vatican Press Office, spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, together with the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, shared details of this “greatly anticipated” event.
The two heads of state will arrive in the Vatican at different times: Peres at 6:15 pm, Abbas – on his return from a trip to Egypt – at 6:30 pm. They will be received separately at the entrance of the St. Marta residence by the Pontiff, with whom they will have a brief conversation, first one and then the other, inside.
Around 6:45 pm all three will meet in the residence hall where Patriarch Bartholomew will also be present, who will have arrived in Rome the previous evening, and will also be staying in the residence. In the morning, Bartholomew will celebrate Mass in the church of Saint Theodore of the Greek-Orthodox community.
The Pope, the patriarch and the two presidents, will then go together in a minibus to the place of the meeting, “a very beautiful triangular lawn” between the Casina Pio IV building and the Vatican Museums, facing towards Saint Peter’s cupola. “It’s a very interesting location,” said Father Lombardi, adding that it is surrounded by high hedges.
Attending the meeting will be delegations (still to be formally confirmed), singers and the press. Once the four protagonists have taken their place –- the Pope in the center, Peres on his right and Abbas on his left, the Patriarch in a different chair — the time for the “invocation for peace” will begin. There will be a musical opening, a briefing in English, and then three moments, in chronological order, of the three religions: first Judaism, then Christianity and finally Islam. Each of the “moments” will follow the same structure: first a thanksgiving for Creation, then a request for pardon, and finally the Invocation for Peace. The Jewish moment will have texts in Hebrew, the Christian in English, Italian and Arabic, and the Muslim in Arabic.
After this “essential part” of the Invocation for Peace, three interventions will follow: first, the Holy Father, then President Peres and lastly President Abbas, “who will say the words they deem appropriate and their Invocation for Peace.” No one of the three will go into the the political situation of Israel and Palestine, explained the spokesmen. On the contrary, Father Pizzaballa stressed, the meeting is intended as “a pause in regard to politics.”
The Custos remarked that “the Holy Father does not want to enter into political questions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which we all know, in fact, in all its little details.” Instead, he wishes “to reopen a path that has been closed for some time,” “to make one dream” and to reawaken in everyone’s spirit the “desire for peace.” “No one has the presumption to think that after this meeting, peace will break out in the Holy Land,” specified the Franciscan. However, “the expectation is high: there is in everyone the hope that something will change because all are tired.”
Returning to the unfolding of the evening, after the interventions of Francis, Abbas and Peres, the Invocation for Peace will be sealed by a joint shaking of hands and the gesture of planting an olive tree – symbol of peace – close to the chairs of the four protagonists. All the delegations (a maximum of 15-20 persons), will go over to greet the Pope, the two Presidents and Bartholomew, who will then go to the adjacent building of the Academy of Sciences for a private meeting, not followed by the television cameras. Once the conversation ends, the two Presidents will leave the Vatican immediately, and the Pope and Patriarch will return to Saint Martha’s.
It will threfore be an unprecedented historic moment, not to be described as an “inter-religious prayer” between Jews, Christians and Muslims. The event will be an “Invocation for Peace that Palestinians and Israelis make to God,” specified Father Pizzaballa. Needless to say, it will not be “a liturgical moment,” given the impossibility of a joint act between the different religions. The most exact definition was given by the Custos of the Holy Land: “It will be a joint invocation, in which we don’t pray together but are together to pray.”
Also attending the meeting will be Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud, both Argentines, and both longstanding friends of the Pope, who also wanted them with him in his pilgrimage in the Land of Jesus.
Benedict XVI will not attend, explained Father Lombardi, but he will accompany the meeting with heartfelt prayer, “as will all those who realize the importance of this event.”