The news: For the first time in history on Sunday, Islamic prayers and readings from the Quran were heard at the Vatican. The prayers were part of a somewhat unusual summit between leaders of Israel and Palestine at the Vatican to try to bring peace to the embattled area.
Pope Francis invited Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas to pray together in what was largely a symbolic gesture to foster dialogue. It will not likely have any immediate or tangible effect.
Francis has specifically turned his attention to the Middle East recently after tensions came to a boil after a new Palestinian government was formed with the backing of the Islamist group Hamas and Israel's announcement of plans to build 3,200 new settler homes. On Saturday, in preparation for the summit, the pope tweeted:
Prayer is all-powerful. Let us use it to bring peace to the Middle East and peace to the world. #weprayforpeace— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 7, 2014
Followed on Sunday by:
I ask all people of good will to join us today in praying for peace in the Middle East. #weprayforpeace— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 8, 2014
The scene in St. Peter's Square during the summit on Sunday. Image Credit: AP
Realistic expectations: Though Francis has been known for his forward thinking since his papacy began last March, he and the Vatican are very aware of the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict and have set their expectations accordingly.
"Nobody is fooling themselves that peace will break out in the Holy Land," Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head of the Franciscan Order in the Middle East who is organizing the historic event in the Vatican Gardens, told AFP. "But this time to stop and breathe has been absent for some time. The pope wants to look beyond, upwards. Not everything is decided by politics."
Francis himself noted that it would be "crazy" to expect a Vatican summit to solve the conflict, but added that praying together might help in some way. The Vatican reportedly called the meeting as an "invocation for peace," stressing that it will not be an "inter-religious prayer," which could pose problems for the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities taking part.
A "cool" pope: Unrestrained by politics and recent historical precedent, Pope Francis has been making a name for himself as an active pontiff in the Vatican. From his "Who am I to judge?" line regarding gay priests in the Church to his decision not to live in the extravagant and ornate Apostolic Palace, Francis has been forward thinking and utilizing the Vatican's massive voice and power positively.
Regarding the Middle East, Sunday's summit is just another step in his efforts to bring some peace to the area. In late May, Francis made his first trip to the Holy Land and again made history when he prayed at the Israeli West Bank barrier.
"For decades the Middle East has known the tragic consequences of a protracted conflict which has inflicted many wounds so difficult to heal," Francis reportedly said at the time. "Even in the absence of violence, the climate of instability and a lack of mutual understanding have produced insecurity, the violation of rights, isolation and the flight of entire communities, conflicts, shortages and sufferings of every sort."
Image Credit: AP