Pope Francis was yesterday to host an unprecedented peace prayer meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a symbolic gesture to foster dialogue, but one unlikely to have any immediate effect.
Tensions are running high between the two sides following the formation of a new Palestinian unity government backed by the Islamist group Hamas and the announcement of Israeli plans for building 3,200 new settler homes.
The Vatican is realistic about the effects of the ceremony.
“Nobody is fooling themselves that peace will break out in the Holy Land,” said Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head of the Franciscan Order in the Middle East, who organized the historic event in the Vatican Gardens.
“But this time to stop and breathe has been absent for some time,” he said, after Francis made the offer to Peres and Abbas on a visit to the Middle East last month.
“The pope wants to look beyond, upwards,” Pizzaballa said. “Not everything is decided by politics.”
Francis himself has been realistic about the prospects of his initiative, saying it would be “crazy” to expect any Vatican mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but adding that just praying together might help in some way.
In a tweet from the pope’s @pontifex account on Saturday, Francis said: “Prayer is all-powerful. Let us use it to bring peace to the Middle East and peace to the world.”