Israel

Pope Francis Eyes Religious Reconciliation on Trip to Holy Land

John Paul II places a prayer in the Western Wall in Jerusalem during a trip to Israel in 2000. Religion News Service file photo.

It sounds a little far-fetched and for some purists perhaps unthinkable: A pope, a rabbi, and a sheik decide to travel to the Holy Land and follow in the steps of Jesus.

But that is just one of the groundbreaking aspects of Pope Francis’ three-day visit to the Middle East that starts on Saturday, a visit in which he hopes to shore up interfaith dialogue, strengthen diplomatic relations, and find new ways to build peace.

The Argentina-born pope will be accompanied by colleagues Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Sheik Omar Abboud, both from Buenos Aires. It is the first time a pope’s official delegation has included members of other faiths on an overseas trip.

Muslim and Anti-Muslim Groups Go to War in Bus, Print Ads

A public opinion war on Middle East politics is playing out this spring in new advertising campaigns on public buses and in newspapers.

It began when the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) launched bus ads during the April Cherry Blossom Festival condemning U.S. aid to Israel because of that country’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territories.

Then on Monday, Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative countered by deploying 15-foot-long ads on 20 buses in the Washington, D.C., system that equate opposition to Israel’s policies with Nazism. One ad shows the grand mufti of Jerusalem meeting Hitler during World War II.

“The bus system is considered public space, so speech has First Amendment protections,” said Caroline Laurin, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “We have no grounds to refuse ads due to their content.”

Pope Francis Will Take Rabbi and Muslim Leader With Him to Holy Land

Pope Francis greets people during a meeting on Nov. 9, 2013. Photo by Alessia Giuliani, courtesy Catholic News Service.

Pope Francis will be accompanied on his first visit to the Middle East by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud — two friends from Buenos Aires.

It is the first time a pope has made an official visit accompanied by members of other faiths, and it underscores the interfaith focus of Francis’ trip to the Holy Land, the Vatican said Thursday.

“This dimension of interreligious dialogue has great significance,” the Vatican’s official spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the media.

Evangelicals And Peacemaking - Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe's Speech At The Third Christ At The Checkpoint Conference In Bethlehem

I called my good friend, Jim Wallis, the leader of Sojourners. As we talked about the situation, Jim asked where I was currently located. I told him I was in New York City. Jim said he was amazed, as he had just been discussing my name with Imam Feisal in NYC. That telephone conversation led to an introduction to Imam Feisal, who in 2012 was named one of the hundred most influential people in the world by Time magazine.

7 Lessons About Peace From My Time in the Middle East

Photo courtesy Jon Huckins

Photo courtesy Jon Huckins

Having just gotten home from guiding another The Global Immersion Project Learning Community deep into the lives of the unheralded heroes in the Holy Land to learn from their often untold stories, I am processing emotions, thoughts, and reflections that will soon bud into a renewed set of practices at home and abroad. I have now been to Israel/Palestine quite a few times, and it would be easy to think the experience becomes mechanical or normal or whatever. Well, for me, that simply hasn’t been the case. We encourage our participants to enter the experience in the posture of a learner rather than a hero. I try to do the same, and in doing so, am continually convicted, challenged, and inspired by our remarkable friends and peacemakers embedded within this conflict.

Here are 7 learnings that have risen to the surface since landing back on home soil:

Evangelical, Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine

Todd Deatherage is the executive director and co-founder of the Telos Group. Photo courtesy of the Telos Group. Via RNS

Secretary of State John Kerry brought his argument for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace to the annual AIPAC conference this week, and whatever else we might know, we know this: Many evangelical Christians didn’t like it.

Or at least that’s what we’re told by some Christian leaders and their political allies. Supporting Israel’s government by opposing compromise with the Palestinians is a permanent plank in American evangelical political thought. “God told Abraham that he would bless those who bless him and the nation of Israel,” the thinking goes, “and curse those that curse Israel.”

But could it be that the truth is more complicated?

What if the loudest evangelical voices don’t represent the complexity of our community? I raise these questions as an evangelical who is fully committed to supporting the struggle for security, dignity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians. And I’m not alone.

Sojourners Magazine - Confessions Of A Violent Peacemaker

Forward: This is the first piece of mine to have been published in a major American magazine. It seems fitting that this milestone was marked in the pages of Sojourners, a magazine with a robust history of faith-rooted activism (including anti-war and anti-violence activism), and whose “commitments are faith in action in three strategic areas: racial and social justice, life and peace, and environmental stewardship.” I was honored to have the opportunity to write a piece for Sojourners, and was amazed this week when the copies of the February edition arrived at my apartment by how powerful it felt to see my piece printed (and to see my name in the contributors list with Margaret Atwood and Bill McKibben!) This piece weaves new interpretations with old understandings of my decision to refuse military service and the stories that accompanied it. I am proud of this essay, and grateful to have the opportunity to share it.

Profiles in Courage

Yousef Bashir: Victim of violence, advocate for nonviolence. Photo courtesy of Northeastern University

"When someone is faced with a gun and chooses to respond with respect and love, that's hope."

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Jim Rice, editor of Sojourners magazine, has been a member of Sojourners editorial staff since 1989. He has also served as director of Sojourners Outreach Ministry and as coordinator of Sojourners Peace Ministry. He currently serves as a Research Fellow for the New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary.

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