ROME — In an effort to encourage peace in the Middle East, Pope Francis hosted the leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian worlds at the Vatican on Sunday, presenting an ecumenical gathering that joined professing Christians and Catholics together with Muslims, Jews and Druze.
Pope Francis, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas planted an olive tree together as a symbol of peace, and each took turns speaking about their desire for “co-existence.”
“Your invitation to us to join you in this momentous ceremony to call for peace, here in the Vatican garden, in the presence of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze leaders, graciously reflects your vision of the aspiration we all share: Peace,” said Peres to the pope.
An ensemble of Jews, Muslims and professing Christians played classical music for the trio, and during the ceremony, there was a time of interfaith prayer, as various religions were represented through prayers for peace. The Times of Israel also reports that the event included “readings about peace by the clergy from the Tanach, the New Testament and the Quran.”
“We have heard a summons, and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word ‘brother’,” Pope Francis declared to those gathered.
Pope Francis had invited Peres and Abbas to join him at the Vatican last month during his visit to the Holy Land. Sunday’s event was held in the Vatican gardens.
“The spiritual leader of the Druze faith in Israel Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, and the Chairman of the Muslim Community of Israel Sheikh Mohammad Kiwan will join Rabbis Dr. Rasson Arussi of the Chief Rabbinate Council, Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber and Rabbi David Rosen of AJC and advisor to the Chief Rabbinate,” reported the Vatican Insider prior to the meeting.
“The Palestinian delegation will also be composed of … Islamic and Christian leaders including the former Minister for Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al Habbash; Sheikh Jamal abu Alhanoud of the Palestinian Sharia Courts; the Minister for Christian Relations Ziad Al-Bandak, the head of the peace negotiations team Saib Arekat and the former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah,” it outlined.
Some have defended the interfaith event while others have expressed concern.
“When leaders of different religions come together and pray for a common cause, they are not only appealing to God, they also are showing the world they believe that followers of different religions are still brothers and sisters before the one who created them,” wrote Catholic News writer Cindy Wooden.
“The distinction between praying together and praying at the same time is one Vatican officials have found increasingly necessary to emphasize as popes have led more and more interfaith gatherings for peace,” she said.
As previously reported, megachurch speaker and author Joel Osteen met with the pope this past Thursday at the Vatican, and praised his desire to be accommodating. Osteen speaks to a 43,000 member congregation each week, and his television broadcast is viewed worldwide.
“I love the fact that’s he’s made the Church more inclusive,” he said. “Not trying to make it smaller, but to try to make it larger—to take everybody in. So, that just resonates with me.”
Others have objected to the pope’s ecumenism, speaking more along the lines of Ezekiel 13:10, which states, “[T]hey have seduced my people, saying, ‘Peace, and there was no peace.'”
“Some theorize that Pope Francis is part of the globalist movement and looking to usher in the age of One World Religion,” noted Dean Garrison of DC Clothesline. “Whether or not that is the case, one has to wonder how the families of those Christians who have been slaughtered in the name of Islam feel about this.”
“From my perspective this is akin to inviting a family of cannibals to dinner,” he stated. “You can offer them the most wonderfully prepared meal ever but chances are very good that you will still be the main course. This pope is playing some very dangerous games …”