· Vatican City ·

Ten years of prayers and paternal closeness

 Ten years of prayers and paternal closeness  ING-024
14 June 2024

By a happy coincidence, the 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the day he spent in Bethlehem coincided with World Day for Children. On 25 May, the Holy Father met the “living stones” of the Holy Land in Rome, on the same day in which he had met them at the Holy Sites in 2014.

I remember the emotions of that day well: that apostolic journey had the aim of recalling the embrace between the first Pontiff to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Paul vi, and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. Pope Francis had been elected one year earlier and asked to be a pilgrim because his was a pilgrimage of prayer to ask for peace. He asked to meet the Presidents of Israel and Palestine together in the Holy Land, but this wish was not granted.

During the journey to the Basilica of the Nativity, Pope Francis saw the wall, and the suffering of separation was so tangible that he deviated from his schedule and decided to pause there. The image of the Pope touching the wall and leaning in for a solitary and silent prayer, is the image of the strength of a man of peace who does not lose hope and stops only to pray, never tiring of asking for peace.

With meekness and decisiveness, he was able to make Abu Mazen and Shimon Peres meet two weeks later at the Vatican. It was a fraternal meeting, one of shared prayer, in which the Pope humbly asked both peoples to offer mutual forgiveness, to try to find a human and peaceful coexistence in the land of Jesus, so tormented and offended.

Three older men longing for peace planted an olive tree together. Ten years later the roots of that tree should be well established in the land, but we have not been able to gather the fruits of this tree, a universal symbol for peace.

From the beginning of his ministry, by choosing that name, Pope Francis gave strength to his mission of peace. His appeals have reached the four corners of the world, but not always do the Holy Father’s profound words reach the hearts of man.

Over these years, I have seen a man suffering because of the evil of war. I have seen him smile only when he meets children and the defenceless.

In 2014 in Bethlehem, he smiled at the children in Manger Square who sang from the joy of having him among them, and he smiled when he embraced a child who had welcomed him into a refugee camp, speaking and singing in Italian about suffering and humiliation.

In 2024 in Rome, he smiled at the children from all over the world, who had welcomed his invitation to pray and to journey along paths of peace.

In a letter sent to Christians in the Holy Land for Easter, Pope Francis thanked them for their “ability to hope against all hope”. It is the same hope that the Holy Father teaches us to nurture as a gift, and that, along with faith and charity, will bring peace to the world. It is the same hope that does not leave Pope Francis and that strengthens his words and his gestures of peace.

Ten years: a long, and at the same time, fixed and brief, time in the history of the Holy Land. Death, suffering, destruction have increased tragically, but they have been 10 years marked by the continuous presence of the Holy Father’s prayers and paternal closeness.

Ibrahim Faltas