Called “Invocation for Peace,” the initiative comes after Pope Francis, following celebration of Mass in Bethlehem on May 25, invited both Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican to pray for an end to the conflict in the Holy Land. Both leaders quickly accepted the invitation.
At a Vatican briefing today, Franciscan Father Pier Battista Pizzaballa, custos of the Holy Land, and Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters the prayer meeting will begin with Peres and Abbas arriving at the Vatican within 15-20 minutes of each other, respectively at 6:15pm and 6:30pm local time.
Father Lombardi said the Holy Father will receive both men individually at the entrance of his St. Martha residence and speak briefly with each of them, after which all three will meet in the hall of the residence. Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, will also accompany them, having arrived in Rome on Saturday evening.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam
The four will then leave the residence by car, arrive at the gardens and take their places. The evening will begin at 7pm with a musical introduction and an explanation in English of the structure and form of the celebration, which will follow the chronological order of the three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The part of the ceremony dedicated to Judaism will begin with a prayer for creation, followed by music, then another prayer invoking forgiveness. More music will be followed by a prayer invoking peace and concluding with a traditional Jewish musical meditation. All the prayers will be in Hebrew.
Christian prayers on the same themes will follow, first in English, then in Italian and finally in Arabic. Each will similarly be interspersed with music and end with a Christian musical meditation. The third part of the ceremony will contain Muslim prayers in Arabic on the same themes, interrupted by music and concluding with a Muslim musical meditation.
A reader will then introduce in English the final part of the celebration, beginning with Pope Francis’ discourse invoking peace. The Holy Father will then invite each of the two presidents to formulate his own invocation. Shimon Peres will begin, followed by Mahmoud Abbas.
As a gesture of peace, in which Patriarch Bartholomew will also participate, all the participants will shake hands. The Pope will then accompany them in planting an olive tree, as a symbol of peace.
‘Not Praying Together But Coming Together to Pray’
At the end of the celebration, the four will remain side by side while the delegations, up to a maximum of 20 people, will greet them. The Holy Father, the two presidents and the Patriarch will then proceed to the Casina Pio IV, the villa that is home to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Holy Father will then speak to them in private.
Peres and Mahmoud will then leave the Vatican, while Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew will return to the St. Martha residence.
It’s not clear how much time will be allotted to silent prayer, but Father Pizzaballa stressed that at such occasions as this, in view of the theological and liturgical differences among those present, followers of the three monotheistic religions “do not pray together, but we come together to pray.”
The “Invocation for Peace” is the second major papal prayer initiative aimed at helping to resolve a global conflict, and shows the Pope’s belief that prayer can be a genuine force for achieving peace. Last September, Francis called on the whole Church to pray for an end to the fighting in Syria. Although the fighting continues, many believe the initiative miraculously helped avert what looked like being an inevitable and potentially catastrophic escalation of the conflict.
This initiative takes place after the latest U.S.-brokered peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians collapsed at the end of April.
“Behind this idea is that men on their own cannot make it,” Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, told the Register. “They need the assistance of God and the Holy Spirit to be able to move forward.” He added that especially in areas of conflict and dispute, Pope Francis wants “in a profound way” to bring the “power and the spirit of the Lord to the ends of the world.
“We saw that over Syria, and we see it over this,” McCarthy said.
In today’s briefing with reporters, Father Pizzaballa stressed the Pope does not want to enter into the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but to “reopen a road that has been closed for a long time” and to awaken in the souls of everyone “the desire for peace.”
“Nobody presumes to believe that after this meeting peace will burst forth in the Holy Land,” he said, but added that “everyone hopes something will change because all are tired.”
The delegations at Sunday’s ceremony will be multi-religious. The Israeli party will include the spiritual leader of the Druze faith in Israel, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, as well as Rabbi Rasson Arussi of the Chief Rabbinate Council, and Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee and adviser to the Chief Rabbinate.
The Palestinian delegation will include Palestine’s former minister for religious affairs, Mahmoud Al Habbash, Sheikh Jamal abu Alhanoud of the Palestinian Sharia Courts, and the retired Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michel Sabbah.
The meeting will also be attended by Rabbi Abraham Skorka and the Islamic leader Omar Abboud, both longtime friends of Pope Francis from Argentina. They also accompanied him on his visit to the Holy Land.
Father Lombardi said Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI won’t be attending but will be taking part in the meeting through heartfelt prayer, “like all of those who realize the importance of this event.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.