After a period of inactivity and withdrawal, Pope Francis has put the Vatican “back on the geopolitical map,” as well as rejuvenating the Catholic Church’s interreligious and ecumenical work, writes John Allen in the Boston Globe (June 8).
Allen writes that the pope’s recent prayer summit for peace brings together Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Francis’ invitation to Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, whom he prayed with during his recent trip to the Holy Land, added an ecumenical dimension to the diplomacy. Allen cites Vatican observers have argued that the world’s oldest diplomatic corps was approaching irrelevance under Pope Benedict XVL.
He adds that the prayer service served as a channel of “backdoor diplomacy that did not exist before.” Francis’ decision to hold the interfaith prayer service was an astute recognition that in the Middle East “religion comes first,” and that problems have to be engaged on a spiritual level, says Abd Al Al-Majeed, mufti of Bethlehem. The event also “solidified a Vatican recipe for making prayer with the followers of other religions theologically acceptable,” Allen writes. Past efforts at joint prayer with other religions have raised criticisms from the church’s traditional wing, saying it encourages the view that religious differences don’t matter.
Francis managed to avoid trouble by arranging that there was no single moment of joint prayer between the pope, Peres and Abbas, but rather three separate prayers for Muslims, Christians and Jews.