Pray! We all need to pray really hard this weekend. Yes, it’s Memorial Day. However, I am talking about today’s tweet from @Pontifex: “Dear friends, please pray for me during my pilgrimage to the Holy Land.” We all need to take him at his word.
I love that Pope Francis chose @Pontifex as his name on Twitter. It comes from one of the most significant roles traditionally ascribed to the Bishop of Rome, Supreme Pontiff. As King Abdullah astutely noted in welcoming Francis to Jordan this morning, “pontiff” means bridge-builder!
Francis will have a packed agenda praying at holy Christian sites, mutually extending overtures of good will with Orthodox Christians as well as Jews, bringing hope to a diminishing Christian minority in the Middle East, offering moral weight to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
We should all be praying really hard these days that this Pontiff achieves something successful in spanning the gaping, perilous divide between Christians and Muslims. Of all that Francis will attempt, this probably has the most profound consequences for the lives our grandchildren.
Francis appears to understand the stakes. Some of the first words out of his mouth upon landing were: “I take this opportunity to reiterate my profound respect and esteem for the Muslim community.”
He then praised King Abdullah’s efforts to promote “better understanding of the virtues taught by Islam” and create a climate of interreligious understanding. It should be noted that as a descendent of Muhammad the king has diligently “tried to uphold true Islam, a religion of peace.”
Today’s words and gestures extend a series of overtures. Who can forget Francis washing the feet of women and a Muslim at the Roman juvenile detention center during his first Holy Thursday liturgy after being elected pope? Well he did it again this past Spring in washing the feet of a disabled 75-year-old Muslim man.
Last summer, the pope released a personal Ramadan greeting to the world’s Muslims, calling it “an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims.” In the past this greeting is typically extended by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
In September, Francis sent a letter to the grand imam of Al-Azhar, a prominent Islamic university in Cairo, calling for a “mutual understanding between the world’s Christians and Muslims in order to build peace and justice.”
In another first, Francis will be accompanied by an Argentine rabbi and an Islamic scholar. “Imagine what could be the power if you saw the pope and a rabbi go into a place where Jews traditionally cannot or do not go, or a Muslim doing the same.” observed a Vatican spokesman.
Yes, pray for this Pontiff’s success. Pray that Francis succeeds in laying a few strong pilings. But we are all laborers – each and all of us are called to bridge the divide separating neighbors and nations, constructing an edifice of peace built on mutual respect and the inherent dignity of every person.
I have relied on an [article] by Jaweed Kaleem for quotes and late-braking facts.