Last month, in anticipation of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we talked about our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Churches. Looking back on his trip, I am amazed by what the pope accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit in just 55 hours. He took significant steps to further reconciliation in the thousand-year schism between the Church in the East and West.
To promote peace, he invited the presidents of Israel and Palestine to the Vatican to pray. He reached out to the poor and to people of various faiths. His spirit-filled words and actions give me two personal challenges. I need to deepen my faith and awe of the power of the Holy Spirit. I also need to resist my tendency to be overwhelmed by challenges.
'That All May Be One'
A primary goal of the pilgrimage was to commemorate the anniversary of the 1964 embrace of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras—to build on what they began. Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I signed the Joint Declaration.
At the service at the Holy Sepulcher, Pope Francis expressed his “hope for a continued dialogue with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome which, in fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be . . . a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all.”
Praying for Peace
In Bethlehem, after passing through the checkpoint, Pope Francis unexpectedly stopped the motorcade and made his way through the crowd to pray at the wall separating Israel and Palestine. During the Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, he invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to join him in prayer for peace.
“And I offer my house in the Vatican to host you in this encounter of prayer,” the pope said.
At the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, the pope prayed, “Never again, Lord! Never again.” He was introduced to six Holocaust survivors and kissed their hands. With his rabbi friend from Argentina, he prayed at the Western Wall. His Muslim friend from Argentina accompanied him to the Dome of the Rock. He met with refugees and had lunch with Palestinian families in Bethlehem. In Jordan, he met with disabled youth and with refugees from Syria and Iraq. He pleaded for peace in Syria.
What lessons can I take?
One: I need to deepen my faith in what the Holy Spirit can do when a person is receptive. Granted, Francis is the pope. He has the special gifts of his office, but each of us has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. I need to examine my belief and conviction about what the Holy Spirit can do through me in my little arena.
Two: I, too, say there is little I can do in the face of gigantic challenges—global warming, care for the poor, sharing the Gospel. Rather than bemoan the difficulties, I can take small steps to limit the energy I use, to walk with the poor, to share my faith and hope. Most important, I can pray and let the Spirit direct me. Pope Francis does not let the size of the challenge stop him!
Dear Stella: I love that expression! Talking to the Lord like that is personal and freeing. It’s the way a child—as we all are—would talk to his mom or dad. Friar Jim
Dear Marion: Yes, the word embrace is just a hint of the warmth and closeness of the Lord in our lives. We just have to think of how we see moms and dads embrace their little ones to remind us of God’s closeness to us. Friar Jim
Dear Ray: Keep your words and expressions to the Lord as familiar and as open as you can. Formal prayer is what we use in Church. But personal prayer is about telling it like it is to God. When we speak to God, we are speaking from the heart. Friar Jim
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