How Does Vatican Interfaith Prayer Help the Peace Process?

Abraham and the Three Angels/Marc Chagall

We’re seeing lots of internet coverage, stories, and opinions regarding Pope Francis hosting Israel’s President Shimon Peres, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tomorrow — on Pentecost Sunday, at the close to the Easter season — and the prayers that will be said.

Here’s the deal:

. . .Vatican officials also confirmed that Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople will participate in the prayer service [and] stressed that the prayer service should be seen not as a political gesture, but in fact as a “pause from politics.” Apart from the two heads of state, no Israeli or Palestinian government officials will participate.

The prayer service will also preserve the integrity of the separate religious traditions, noted Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa. . .”We do not pray together, but we stay together to pray,” he said.

Peres and Abbas will arrive at the Vatican separately, and the Pope will speak to each man privately before they join together for the service in the Vatican Gardens. The service will have three sections, with prayers for forgiveness and prayers for peace said in each of the three religious traditions: first Jewish (in Hebrew), then Christian (in English, Italian, and Arabic), and finally Islamic (in Arabic).

This is a serious Invocation for Peace (links to text).

On Twitter, someone responding to Katrina’s post wrote

Still not sure how this will help the “peace process”.


Really?
That’s kind of like saying “what? Prayer? How dumb! That has no power!”

Fine for an atheist, but we people of faith understand — or should — that prayer has more power than all of our military and diplomatic efforts combined; that prayer offered in good faith, in simple, trusting faith, has the power “to move mountains,” as Christ Jesus said.

Unless of course, one thinks he was talking through his hat — just speaking pretty for the scribes.

But we don’t really believe that, do we?
Even as so many Christians pretend that “meh, he didn’t really mean what he said about marriage,” and divorce again and again, or “meh, he couldn’t possibly have meant what he said about his Flesh and Blood” and therefore dismiss the Eucharist, we don’t really believe that he was pitching blarney on something as basic to the life and practice of faith as the power of prayer, do we?

If so, what was the point of his teachings? Why bother with the whole bloody sacrifice and resurrection and all the subsequent martyrdoms and miracles, if Christ’s discourses were nothing but fillers for a bad spiritual salami, comprised of 90% faith by-products, and prayer had no truck with the Father?

Do we believe that sincere and faith-filled prayer has power? Yes, we do. Do we think that only Christian prayer is acceptable to God? I’m sure some do believe that, especially since Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” and “no one comes to the Father except through me.”

But does that mean the prayers of billions are never heard in heaven? Does it mean the prayers of a little child, not yet capable of fully comprehending (as if any of us can) what it means to “accept Christ”, never reach the Father? That hundreds of millions of people are created each year who go through their whole lives making heartfelt prayers that shift to some sort of spiritual sidebar, where angels perhaps raise them as far as they may go without Christ’s mediation? What if Christ — as Mediator in heaven, and in whom resides all Judgement — decides, “yeah, I’m the mediator; let the prayers come to me, and through me to my Abba.”

Because he actually can do that! Beyond all of our doctrine, and dogma and our dictates, he is the ultimate Decider. If the Creator can decide, through the pleadings of Abraham, that he will spare a nation possessing one faithful man, then the Redeemer can decide whether prayers will ascend to the Father, through himself, no?

But okay, just for the sake of argument, let’s say no. Let’s go with the idea that only Christian prayer can make it all the way to the Throne of the Father.

We hear that tomorrow a faithful Jew will pronounce prayers for forgiveness and for peace. A faithful Christian will do the same. A faithful Muslim will do the same.

If the Christian prays, “Lord Jesus Christ hear and accept our prayers offered today, by all of your Children of Abraham…” or something like that, then ta-da! These prayers ascend to Christ, through whom they pass to the Father.

Such an event, it seems to me, will “help the peace process” quite a lot, if we believe what we say we believe.

And even if we don’t believe, even if we think prayer is all moonshine and self-delusion, here is another way all of this can (and I believe will) positively impact the peace process: this is a gathering of representatives of people — all of these Children of Abraham — who have been too-long immersed in a world of dehumanized “thems” and “theys”. At this gathering, in consenting to pray in their traditions, peacefully, and in the presence of others, they are communicating to each other what the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said was the most fundamental message that needs to be communicated and received, before all others, in the quest for sustained peace: “it is good that you exist.”

Not, “it is okay that you exist as long as you operate as I think you must.”

Not, “it is problematic that you exist but, I can fix you and make you acceptable enough.”

Simply, “it is good that you exist.”

With this message — being communicated through prayer, Jew to Muslim to Christian to Jew to Muslim — something is being formulated, poured out and put into place that has gone missing up to now: the concrete assertion of a mutual humanity that is not here by accident, and is finally being seen and acknowledged. Seen not just as “other players” in a world of convenient labels and “thems” and “theys” but as God sees us and calls us to see each other: as broken, bespoken, beckoned and beloved.

The prayers of sincere Children of Abraham, made peaceably in each other’s presence, give global witness to “It is good that you exist”. And that is the simple, sturdy foundation upon which eventual peace may be constructed.

And from there perhaps, we might move on to “that all may be one”.

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Energy conservation measure: As this piece took all day to compose, comments will remain closed until I am fully recovered and working at 100%.

About Elizabeth Scalia

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