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Pope Francis \ Activities

Prayer for Peace: Opening new horizons

Pope Francis with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

11/06/2014

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ Invocation for Peace in the Vatican Gardens – which brought together Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a time of prayer – has been seen by some as an anomaly in the Middle East peace process.

“I think the general public, who is not yet completely clued up to who the Holy Father is and what he’s trying to do, I think it was rather confusing,” says Father David Neuhaus, the Patriarchal vicar for Hebrew-speaking communities in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. “It was confusing to have these two political leaders together, in the same place, at the same time, and to have the Holy Father insist all the time this was not politics.”

Speaking with Vatican Radio's Christopher Wells, Father Neuhaus helped give context to the Holy Father’s actions.

Listen: 

Religion, he says, has a very important role to play in the world, and especially in the Middle East. “I have the sense that Pope Francis right throughout his visit, and now with this invocation for peace in the Vatican Gardens, is trying somehow to define a role for religion” – a role that goes beyond typical expectations. “I think that the Holy Father is coming in and opening up a new space in which religion can have a word about what’s going in the world we live in.” The Holy Father, he suggests, “is establishing religion in a zone of freedom, in a zone in which religion is not serving anyone else’s aims, but is really trying to seek out how to speak spiritually about our reality.”

In this sense, Father Neuhaus sees Pope Francis fulfilling a prophetic role. “I think that the Holy Father is deliberately placing himself in the margins, and from the margins speaking with a prophetic voice. Most definitely a true prophet is not at the centre of power, but in the margins, and opening up the imagination of those that are imprisoned in the systems that they have constructed.”

Father Neuhaus downplayed expectations of an immediate, visible impact on the Middle East peace process. “The Holy Father is not a magician who waved a wand, or a very powerful political leader who can exert enough pressure to change our realities. It seems to me that the Holy Father is not all that concerned with that kind of impact.”

Rather, in continuity with previous papal visits, Pope Francis journey to the Holy Land is aimed at “opening us up” to new horizons where peace can flourish. “I think these are all ways that the spiritual leader can play a very, very important role in reformulating language and in opening up imagination… I think in this will be the great contribution of the visit of Pope Francis, again in continuity with Pope Benedict, in continuity with Saint John Paul II, and in continuity with the visit that he came to commemorate, the visit of Pope Paul VI.”

Below, please find the full text of the interview of Father David Neuhaus with Christopher Wells:

Father David Neuhaus: “Well, I think among believers, who followed with great interest what the Holy Father was doing, the images that came across were very moving. I heard that from many, many Christians who watched with great interest.

“I think the general public, who is not yet completely clued up to who the Holy Father is and what he’s trying to do, I think it was rather confusing. It was confusing to have these two political leaders together, in the same place, at the same time, and to have the Holy Father insist all the time this was not politics. And so I think people are kind of pondering the meaning, without being too sure of what to make of what happened.”

Vatican Radio: Father, could you give us a little of the context, and can you help to explain to people, what does something like this mean?

DN: “Well I think in a region where religion plays a very important role, I have the sense – the Holy Father did not tell me this, and I could be completely wrong – But I have the sense that Pope Francis right throughout his visit, and now with this invocation for peace in the Vatican Gardens, is trying somehow to define a role for religion, a role which we’re… that we are not totally clued up on. We are used to religion which avoids politics, very pious religion that speaks only about spiritual things. And we are used to religion being instrumentalized in political life, where the religious leader plays a very, very set role. He is there to bless whatever ideology or political position is being presented by the people who pay his salary. I think that the Holy Father is coming in and opening up a new space in which religion can have a word about what’s going in the world we live in, without fitting into either of those two models.

“And I think this is what’s going to take some time to catch up on, and it’s going to very much depend on whether we take up what the Holy Father is proposing. And that we, in the first instance, is limited in the first instance to the Catholic leadership in the Holy Land, the Christian leadership in the Holy Land. And hopefully, if we can indeed meditate on what he’s offering us, and speak from the same coherent, authentic place, than other religious leaders might consider, I think, his proposition.

“And the proposition, as far as I can see it, is establishing religion in a zone of freedom, in a zone in which religion is not serving anyone else’s aims, but is really trying to seek out how to speak spiritually about our reality. In other words, not avoiding our reality, and not speaking in the name of the political leadership. But trying to be a voice of truth, and more particularly a vision of what could be the alternatives to the rather difficult reality that we live. And those are alternatives that are opened up by a spiritual vision. I think that in a certain sense the Holy Father is bringing God into our lives, including into the political conflict. But this is not a god who’s chained to some kind of ideology, but a God who’s opening up horizons beyond the walls that we have built.”

VR: Thank you, Father. Can you also, perhaps, speak about what kind of impact this might have?

DH: “Well, first of all, I’d like to play down any kind of expectations that might be built up, and a little less after the visit. The impact is not going to be immediate. The Holy Father is not a magician who waved a wand, or a very powerful political leader who can exert enough pressure to change our realities. It seems to me that the Holy Father is not all that concerned with that kind of impact.

“I think that the Holy Father is deliberately placing himself in the margins, and from the margins speaking with a prophetic voice. Most definitely a true prophet is not at the centre of power, but in the margins, and opening up the imagination of those that are imprisoned in the systems that they have constructed. And I think it’s this that will be the long term impact, but that will depend very, very much on whether we take up what the Holy Father is offering, because he offered it freely, he didn’t come to impose anything, and in the freedom with which he offered it, now will depend the freedom that we have to listen closely, to analyse, to ponder.

“At this present time, I think a lot of people are confused. They are confused because this was something very new. Not completely new, because I think there was a continuity of this visit with the visits of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, and perhaps even – that’s a long time ago and I don’t remember it – the visit of pope Paul vi. All these visits, I think, have as their aim to open us up. And the deliberate use of the word ‘horizon,’ time and again, by the Holy Father while he was here, and particularly – these were his last words in the Cenacle – ‘And freeing ourselves to go out, to go out towards the other.’ And that beautiful image that he used during the prayer, or the invocation for prayer, ‘Let us use the word “brother” when we look at that person that we have so far defined as enemy or rival. I think these are all ways that the spiritual leader can play a very, very important role in reformulating language and in opening up imagination: Language that has become set in stone. We have a wall and two sides of the wall, or a border, and two sides of the border and imaginations that have kind of shut down and can’t even imagine a tomorrow that’s different from today. I think in this will be the great contribution of the visit of Pope Francis, again in continuity with Pope Benedict, in continuity with Saint John Paul II, and in continuity with the visit that he came to commemorate, the visit of Pope Paul VI.”

11/06/2014