Today was the final day of Pope Francis’ trip to the Holy Land. It was another day full of excitement and hope.
The first item on the Pope’s schedule was a visit to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem is the Sunni Muslim cleric in charge of the Islamic sites in Jerusalem. As has become characteristic of his visit, Pope Francis gave another conciliatory address. In it he appealed to the Abrahamic origins of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam:
Dear brothers, dear friends, from this holy place I make a heartfelt plea to all people and to all communities who look to Abraham: may we respect and love one another as brothers and sisters! May we learn to understand the sufferings of others! May no one abuse the name of God through violence! May we work together for justice and peace! Salaam!
After meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Pope Francis visited the Western Wall and laid a wreath at Mount Herzl. Pope Francis then visited Yad Vashem, a memorial and museum dedicated to the Holocaust. There Pope Francis gave a haunting address:
“Adam, where are you?” (cf. Gen 3:9). Where are you, o man? What have you come to? In this place, this memorial of the Shoah, we hear God’s question echo once more: “Adam, where are you?” This question is charged with all the sorrow of a Father who has lost his child. The Father knew the risk of freedom; he knew that his children could be lost… yet perhaps not even the Father could imagine so great a fall, so profound an abyss! Here, before the boundless tragedy of the Holocaust, That cry – “Where are you?” – echoes like a faint voice in an unfathomable abyss…
Following his visit to Yad Vashem, Pope Francis met with the two chief rabbis of Israel. He began his address by noting his own work with the Jewish community as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He also called attention to improved relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community since Nostra Aetate, and the dialogues conducted between the Holy See and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel through the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. He did, however, say that more needs to be done:
We need to do more than simply establish reciprocal and respectful relations on a human level: we are also called, as Christians and Jews, to reflect deeply on the spiritual significance of the bond existing between us. It is a bond whose origins are from on high, one which transcends our own plans and projects, and one which remains intact despite all the difficulties which, sadly, have marked our relationship in the past.
On the part of Catholics, there is a clear intention to reflect deeply on the significance of the Jewish roots of our own faith. I trust that, with your help, on the part of Jews too, there will be a continued and even growing interest in knowledge of Christianity, also in this holy land to which Christians trace their origins. This is especially to be hoped for among young people.
He ended by calling for peace and the elimination of anti-Semitism:
Together, we can make a great contribution to the cause of peace; together, we can bear witness, in this rapidly changing world, to the perennial importance of the divine plan of creation; together, we can firmly oppose every form of anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination.
Following his meeting with the two chief rabbis of Israel, Pope Francis met the President of Israel. His address focused on the role of the State of Israel in guaranteeing peace in the Holy Land:
Mr President, you are known as a man of peace and a peacemaker. I appreciate and admire the approach you have taken. Peacemaking demands first and foremost respect for the dignity and freedom of every human person, which Jews, Christians and Muslims alike believe to be created by God and destined to eternal life. This shared conviction enables us resolutely to pursue peaceful solutions to every controversy and conflict. Here I renew my plea that all parties avoid initiatives and actions which contradict their stated determination to reach a true agreement and that they tirelessly work for peace, with decisiveness and tenacity.
There is likewise need for a firm rejection of all that is opposed to the cultivation of peace and respectful relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims. We think, for example, of recourse to violence and terrorism, all forms of discrimination on the basis of race or religion, attempts to impose one’s own point of view at the expense of the rights of others, anti-Semitism in all its possible expressions, and signs of intolerance directed against individuals or places of worship, be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim…
The presence of these communities and respect for their rights – as for the rights of all other religious groups and all minorities – are the guarantee of a healthy pluralism and proof of the vitality of democratic values as they are authentically embodied in the daily life and workings of the State.
In his address Pope Francis appeared to reach out to the State of Israel while at the same time reprimanding it for its failure to uphold the basic human rights of some of its citizens.
After his meeting with the President, Pope Francis met with the Prime Minister of Israel at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem. According to The Jerusalem Post, the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Pope Francis began with Netanyahu defending the security barrier that Pope Francis visited yesterday in a sudden and unscheduled stop. Pope Francis stopped at the barrier and prayed by graffiti which read: “free Palestine” and “Bethlehem look like Warsaw Ghetto.” Netanyahu’s reaction shines a spotlight on the tension between the political establishment in Israel and the Vatican.
Following lunch with the Prime Minister, Pope Francis again met with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople before visiting the church of Gethsemane. There he met with priests, religious, and seminarians. In his address Pope Francis reminded the faithful of the cost of true discipleship:
In that hour, Jesus felt the need to pray and to have with him his disciples, his friends, those who had followed him and shared most closely in his mission. But here, at Gethsemane, following him became difficult and uncertain; they were overcome by doubt, weariness and fright. As the events of Jesus’ passion rapidly unfolded, the disciples would adopt different attitudes before the Master: attitudes of closeness, distance, hesitation.
Here, in this place, each of us – bishops, priests, consecrated persons, and seminarians – might do well to ask: Who am I, before the sufferings of my Lord?
The Pope then departed for the Cenacle, or the Upper Room. There he celebrated Mass despite the controversy his visit to the Cenacle has caused among the Jewish community in Israel. The ground floor of the Cenacle is thought to be the tomb of King David, and as such is deeply revered by many Jews. They see Christian religious services in the Upper Room as an attempt to take back the site. This has caused significant tension between Jews and Christians, as well as the Vatican and Israel. It has also led Jewish extremists to scrawl “Jesus is garbage” and “Death to Christians” on several Christian churches and sites in the past few days.
Pope Francis’ homily in the Cenacle was a commemoration of the Last Supper:
It is a great gift that the Lord has given us by bringing us together here in the Upper Room for the celebration of the Eucharist. I greet you with fraternal joy and I wish to express my affection to the Oriental Catholic Patriarchs who have taken part in my pilgrimage during these days. I want to thank them for their significant presence, particularly dear to me and I assure them of a special place in my heart and in my prayers. Here, where Jesus shared the Last Supper with the apostles; where, after his resurrection, he appeared in their midst; where the Holy Spirit descended with power upon Mary and the disciples, here the Church was born, and she was born to go forth. From here she set out, with the broken bread in her hands, the wounds of Christ before her eyes, and the Spirit of love in her heart.
The rest of his homily was about the transformative power of the Upper Room.
After Mass Pope Francis departed for Rome.
It is my prayer that Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land will be a turning point for Palestine, Israel, and the Middle East. May it also be a source of comfort and strength for the Christians who so bravely remain in the Holy Land, carrying on the legacy of the early Church.