A significant event took place on Pentecost Sunday though it didn't have much of a mention in the news. Two Presidents, a Patriarch and a Pope stood together in Rome and prayed for peace in that part of the world that they all call the Holy Land.
The invitation to come to Rome had been issued by the Pope when he was in Israel/Palestine a few weeks ago and readily accepted by both President Abbas and President Peres. No-one is expecting it to put an end to the war but to see two presidents on opposite sides of a conflict stand side by side and declare to the world that they were longing and aching for peace must surely be a first and another instance of Pope Francis' genius for the unexpected. It was a small gathering of no more than a hundred and included prayers of forgiveness as well as prayers for peace.
Praying for peace is not unusual for Popes and gatherings of religious leaders to do this have happened a number of times in Assisi. Then the emphasis was coming together to pray (each in their own way) rather than praying together. But this time we had followers of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths addressing the God they all believe in, united in faith and hope.
During the service President Peres spoke of two peoples -Israelis and Palestinian aching for peace. He said
"The tears of mothers over their children are still etched in our hearts. We must put an end to the cries, to the violence, to the conflict. We all need peace. Peace between equals..............On this moving occasion, brimming with hope and full of faith, let us all raise with you, Your Holiness, a call for peace between religions, between nations, between communities, and between fellow men and women. Let true peace become our legacy soon and swiftly.
And President Abbas prayed "we ask You, O Lord, for peace in the Holy Land, Palestine, and Jerusalem together with its people. We call on you to make Palestine and Jerusalem in particular a secure land for all the believers, and a place for prayer and worship for the followers of the three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and for all those wishing to visit it."
These three religions have so much that unites them yet there is so much division between them. They tell similar but different stories particularly about the land of Israel. The conflict seems never ending yet there are many initiatives for peace and all true believers long for peace in their hearts. To hear this longing echoed by political leaders in such a public way must surely offer possibilities for the future. But for that we shall have to wait and see - and of course pray.
I am a Catholic nun, involved in interfaith relations for many decades. For me this has been an exciting and sacred journey which I would like to share with others.