The Pope, Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, distinct prayers and a cry for peace (Vatican Insider)

Presentation of the program for Sunday in the Vatican gardens. The time is from 18.15 to 20.45. “It will be a pause from politics, no representatives of the two governments will be present”.


It will begin with three distinct prayers - Jewish, Christian and Muslim - the “prayer for peace” that will bring together, on Sunday evening in the Vatican gardens, Pope Francis, Israeli President Shimon Peres, the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It will be a “pause from politics” and the delegations, which are still incomplete, will not include representatives of the respective governments.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio invited the two Middle East leaders in his “home” during a recent trip to the Holy Land. Today in the Vatican press office the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, and the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, presented the program for the event which begins late Sunday afternoon with the arrival of the two presidents in the Vatican: Peres at 18.15 and Abbas, from Egypt, at 18.30. Bergoglio will welcome them to his home, Santa Marta, for a brief talk, first with one and then with the other. At approximately 18.45, in the lobby of the residence, the three will be joined by the Patriarch Bartholomew who will have arrived in Rome the night before. A vehicle will then take the four to “a beautiful triangular lawn located between the “Casina Pio IV”, the Academy of Sciences, and the “Vatican Museums”, said Lombardi, an area “that points towards the dome of St. Peter”.

The public part of the meeting will then take place in the presence of the press: a musical opening, a brief introduction in English to explain the course of the event, and then three distinct moments of prayer in the three religions, first Jewish (in Hebrew), then Christian (in English, Italian and Arabic), and lastly Muslim (in Arabic). “We do not pray together, but we stay together to pray avoiding any form of syncretism” said Pizzaballa. “Some may observe that the two presidents are not religious, but they are believers: it is not necessary to wear the religious habit in order to pray”, he said, noting that “Abbas knows the Quran very well and Peres the Jewish scriptures” and anyway, the two presidents are present as “representatives of their people” and not religious leaders. Bartholomew, on his part, will recite part of a Christian prayer. All three prayers will, however, have the same structure: a passage on creation, a request for forgiveness and a cry for peace interspersed with short musical passages. Lastly, the three interventions of the Pope, President Peres and President Mahmoud Abbas "who will recite the words they deem appropriate, and their cry for peace”. The public portion of the meeting will end with “a gesture of peace, probably a common handshake” said Lombardi, and then the four protagonists will plant an olive tree, a symbol of peace.

Ultimately, Bergoglio, Bartholomew, Peres and Abbas will go to the nearby building of the Casina Pio IV, home of the Academy of Sciences, they will stop for a final public photograph in the oval courtyard (the "Nymph") and will then enter for a " confidential meeting, that will not be captured by cameras or journalists”. This is the last leg of the meeting. With the departure of Israeli and Palestinian presidents, which is expected around 20.30 - 20.40, the “prayer for peace” terminates.

“It is a pause from politics” said Father Pizzaballa. “The Holy Father did not want to get into political issues over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the details of which we are all aware of, from ‘A’ to ‘Z’. It is a pause from politics: politics has its own dynamics, its own time, its own breath, more or less long or short, as you want; but the Pope's desire is to look up and go a little over the political aspect, inviting politicians to stop and pause as well”.

For the Custos of the Holy Land “both Israeli and Palestinian media are very interested, a sign of a deep interest in their respective countries” and “although we cannot avoid a little skepticism, there is however “great expectation and a great curiosity”. More generally, “no one has the presumption to believe that after this event peace will break out in the Holy Land”, but the intent is “to make a strong gesture”, “a very important initiative to reopen this road where everyone again feels the need for this peace” and “to hope and dream”, to “restore in political discussions that respite – that is a little lacking – of a vision from above and towards one another, also to have some impact on public opinion”.

Both the Israeli and Palestinian delegations are still incomplete. They will most probably be formed of fifteen to twenty people each. It is expected that, with Peres, there will be a representative of the Italian Jewish community, such as the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattegna. There will surely be the two Argentine friends who accompanied the Pope to the Holy Land, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and the Islamic Omar Abboud. In response to questions from reporters, Lombardi said that it is not expected that Pope Emeritus Joseph Ratzinger will be present, and that Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin did not have a specific role in the preparation of the event. Have Hamas leaders just entered into coalition Palestinian government? “The intent of the event is religious” replied Pizzaballa, “there will not be any representatives of the two governments, but only of Israeli and Palestinian society. This is a pause from politics”.

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