VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis waded head-first into Mideast peace-making Sunday, welcoming the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to the Vatican for an evening of peace prayers just weeks after the last round of U.S.-sponsored negotiations collapsed.
Israeli President Shimon Peres was the first to arrive at the Vatican hotel where Francis lives, followed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Francis warmly greeted both and met privately with each one before heading out to the Vatican garden for the service.
Vatican officials have insisted that Francis has no political agenda by inviting the two leaders to pray at his home other than to rekindle a desire for peace among the two parties. But the meeting could have significance on the ground beyond mere symbolism.
“In the Middle East, symbolic gestures and incremental steps are important,” noted the Rev. Thomas Reese, a veteran Vatican analyst for the National Catholic Reporter. “And who knows what conversations can occur behind closed doors in the Vatican.”
The meeting will also cement Francis’ reputation as a leader unhindered by diplomatic and theological protocol who is willing to go out on a limb for the sake of peace. Given his enormous popularity, who could say no to the first pope named for the peace-loving St. Francis of Assisi?
The unusual prayer summit was a feat of diplomatic and religious protocol, organized in the two weeks since Francis issued the surprise invitation to Peres and Abbas from Manger Square in Bethlehem.
It is taking place in the lush Vatican gardens in the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica, the most religiously neutral place in the tiny city-state, and will incorporate Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers, delivered in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Italian.
The prayers focus on three themes common to each of the religions: thanking God for creation, seeking forgiveness for past wrongdoing and praying to God to bring peace to the region.
Francis, Peres and Abbas are also expected to deliver brief remarks, shake hands and plant an olive tree together in a sign of peace. Also on hand is the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, to give a united Christian front.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/06/pope-francis-shimon-peres-mahmoud-abbas-107573.html
Kerry runs around for months to no avail. His Holiness drops by and says, you two, come pray with me, and they both accept instantly. There is a marked difference in respect being shown here.