I don't want to be a Debbie Downer, or should I say a Maudlin Murray, but I had to ironically smile when I read these two paragraphs in the Sunday New York Times story on Pope Francis’ first day in the Holy Land and his invitation to the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to come to Rome to pray with him for peace:
“Father Jamal Khader, head of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala and a local spokesman for the pope’s visit, said the invitation to a joint prayer was ‘taking the negotiations to another level – a meeting in front of God.’
“He said the idea was for inter-religious dialogue, to ‘make religion part of trying to find a solution instead of it being seen as a negative and a complication.’”
To believe that these secular politicians, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, can have sway over religious fanatics is truly laugh inducing. Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad etc., etc., and so forth, are intolerant religionists dedicated to the annihilation of Israel. The pope would have an easier time mending the thousand-year blood feud between Sunnis and Shias than inviting two leaders who have no influence on their religious brothers to talk peace, especially when one of them, Peres, is slated to leave office shortly and the other has repeatedly threatened to resign. If Francis truly wanted an “inter-religious dialogue” he should have extended an invitation to the rabbis and imams whose rantings foment much of the loathing, intolerance and violence indigenous to the region.
On the Israeli side, hard core Orthodox sects are spewing hatred not just against gentiles living in the ancient “promised land” but also against other Jewish denominations such as Masorti, the Conservative movement’s Israel-based wing. They have sprayed graffiti on churches, mosques and synagogues. They have attacked Palestinians. They have vandalized military equipment. At least for now they have not attacked other Jews.
From this cauldron of rising intolerance Francis hopes to stir up a potion of peace from a prince of peace in whose name wars, genocide and enslavement have been waged over millennia and whose adherents are as fractured as those of Mohammed and the Torah.
It is to sadly laugh.
I applaud Francis for his crazy optimism. That is, after all, one of the basic job functions of any pope, to give hope to those who otherwise live in the bleakest of worlds. Let's hope Francis can pull out a miracle from under his papal frock. But let's not be deluded into believing god, in whose name too many atrocities are perpetrated, will finally hear the outcries of his children and send them salvation, or at least a path to a solution to an intractable problem.