Updated: June 07, 2021 10:34 AM GMT
Picture: Boston Globe
In the most direct statement yet by a senior church official about the significance of Francis’ surprise moment of prayer on Sunday at the barrier between Israel and the West Bank, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien told the Globe on Monday that it amounted to an endorsement of the Palestinian cause.
“The pope acknowledged the state of Palestine on this trip, and issued a strong call for a two-state solution,” he said. “The wall symbolizes everything that stands in contradiction to that.”
He was appointed to the position of Grand Master by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, and became a cardinal in 2012.
Although O’Brien is not part of the pope’s official delegation for his Middle East trip, he’s on hand in Jerusalem to follow the visit. Among other things, he took part in the joint prayer service held Sunday night by Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, considered “first among equals” in the Orthodox world, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
O’Brien spoke to the Globe Monday morning about the visit.
Globe: Overall, what do you think Francis has accomplished?
O’Brien: I think not just the Christians but everyone here is relieved that his voice is being heard and respected by all sides. That’s not happened in a very long time, and it’s a real breakthrough. Three or four days ago, it wasn’t clear what would happen.
What do you think has struck people most?
His meeting with the Grand Mufti this morning was an important sign of reaching out to the Muslim community, and a way of encouraging the moderates. There was the totally unexpected stop at the wall in Bethlehem yesterday, which was truly inspired. There was also the highlight meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch last night, which was full of tremendous symbolism. For instance, when the patriarch sat down [after his speech] last night, the pope reached over and kissed his hand. It was extremely moving, and very telling.
I think what people are responding to is that all this comes straight from his heart, without any political measurement or any sense of personal or ecclesiastical benefit. He’s just trying to bring people together, and that comes across.
How did you read the significance of what he did at the barrier between Israel and the West Bank?
You can hear about the dimensions of the wall, that it’s 400 miles long and 30 feet high, and you may be able to imagine what it’s like. Once you actually see it, however, it’s hard not to be shocked. I imagine the pope was shocked, and simply couldn’t pass by without acknowledging it.
When [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas greeted Francis at the end of the Mass on Saturday, he thanked him for that stop at the wall and said the Palestinians are planning to make a postage stamp out of it. The Israelis made a stamp when Pope John Paul II visited the Western Wall in 2000, so now the Palestinians want to make the most out of this image.
I think what the pope wanted to do was to bring attention to the scandal of the Wall, what it’s done to people and families. He could not resist the chance to bring attention to this symbol of division, which was an initiative the Israeli government took with little regard to the human sensitivities involved.
Was it an endorsement of the Palestinian cause?
Yes, I think so. The pope acknowledged the state of Palestine on this trip, and issued a strong call for a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It’s the conviction of the pope that this is the direction that things have to go. The wall symbolizes everything that stands in contradiction to that.
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