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Francis at the Bethlehem Security Wall

When Pope John Paul II prayed at the Western Wall in March, 2000, I was watching on a big screen in the press room at the Jerusalem convention center. Covering the pope's pilgrimage for Newsday, I wasn't fortunate enough to be in the media pool for that event. Nor was the late Bill Bell, veteran reporter for the New York Daily News.  Bell, a very perceptive and seasoned reporter, absorbed the scene of John Paul at the Wall and, filled with enthusiasm, turned and told me: "That picture is going to be on the front page of every newspaper in the world." He was right: It was the enduring image of the pope's pilgrimage to the Holy Land and, to my mind, one of the key photos from John Paul's entire pontificate.

I wonder if the same will happen for the dramatic image of Pope Francis praying at the graffiti-marked concrete security wall the Israeli government erected in Bethlehem. This is an image [shown here from Osservatore Romano] that strikes home, and it will mean more than anything said during this journey. The fact that it was an unscheduled stop ought to heighten its news value. Will it be on front pages everywhere? Its news value says that it should be.



About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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Thanks - stunning.  And then to invite the Palestinian and Israeli presidents to the Vatican to end the dilemma and sufferings.  What else does he have in store?

And his sincere thanks and gratitude to Jordan for welcoming and supporting the Syrian refugees - both Muslim and Christian.

I know it's atypical of liberal me to say this, but maybe when mentioning the badness of the barriers, it would be fair to also mention how many lives they have saved.  There are barriers too in other places ( like Northern Ireland ...  ... but they're hardly ever discussed.

Yeah, if we get some of those babies from sea to shining Gulf of Mexico along the border, with minefields fore and aft, maybe we can get some Republicans to vote for immigration reform. But probably not.

All the more newsworthy, or so it would seem, precisely because it echoes the iconography of John Paul's prayer at the Western Wall.  Thanks.

I'm not sying barriers are good, but the one in Israel was built to save lives and the  bad press Israel gets, when so many other places have barriers too, seems disproportionate. 

@ Crystal Watson,

The pope did not say the barriers are bad; that's your interpretation. 

He was likely praying for all the sufferings, all the lives lost, including those of both Palestinians and Jews as well as others, as embodied by that wall. Plus, no matter how you slice it, walls separate and divide.

Pope Francis reportedly told a BBC journalist that he would explain why he prayed at the wall on his return flight presser, so we shall find out soon why he did the things he did there and elsewhere.

Meantime, what a day this was, and what a pope he is.

Deo Gratias

To insert himself so forcefully at such a neuralgic symbol took great courage. And the meeting at the Vatican in June, as the Times story mentioned, even if not technically politically signficant, is a powerful symbol that places the discussion in a much more human, dialogical place. In other words, it is not so much those evil, lying, distoriting Zionists and those irrational, unreasonable, violent (fictional as Gingrich said) Palestinians as it is two peoples praying together with the Pope who represents the Christians in the region. Who knows if it will yield any actual, fruit, but it does place religion in a postive light. 

Afterall, the historical roots of this divide go all the way back to Ishmael and Isaac. Even the great Abraham could not find a way to have peace between Sarah and Hagar!

Mr. Netanyahu, tear down this wall...

Francis identified all the players. The criminals who sell the weapons. Those who place politics over people. What a pope indeed.

Hi, Paul, for what it's worth, here is the photo score for the two newspapers we get each morning: the Chicago Tribune printed a front-page photo of Francis praying with Patriarch Bartholomew.  The actual story ran on page 12, which had another photo of the two religious leaders. The Holy Father didn't make the front page of the Daily Herald, but it printed a page-two photo of Francis waving to Palestinians from the Popemobile as he arrived in Manger Square.  

How editors make these photo decisions, I'm not sure.  Surely they could have selected shots at the wall.

ABC World News ran with the unscheduled-stop-at-the-wall story in its evening newscast yesterday.


Today's Boston Globe has the photo of Francis at the security wall on the front page accompanied by a news article.  Inside (p. A5) there's analysis from John Allan that argues the iconic, impromptu moment of prayer at the wall was just one of "...four blockbuster moments, any one of which would probably have been enough to label the day historic".

The other three are:  1) the pope's invitation to Presidents Peres and Abbas to join him at the Vatican in a common prayer for peace, 2) Francis' brief speech in Tel Aviv which had two last-minute additions:  one highlighting that the victims of the Holocaust were "in the first place, Jews", and the other decrying the "anti-Semitic attack" Saturday in Brussels and, 3) his joint prayer service with Patriarch Bartholomew in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

To balance the stop at the barrier ... "Pope Makes Surprise Stop at Memorial for Israeli Terror Victims" ... ... with an almost identical photo of him praying at the monument


Also from John Allen (per his Twitter @JohnLAllenJr): "Vat spokesman says pope's answer to anger on both sides during visit was embrace this AM with rabbi and muslim leader before Western Wall"


This pope is simply brilliant.

The significance of Pope Francis' act of laying a wreath at the grave of Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, should not be overlooked.  He is the first Pope to do so.  Herzl's life passion was the founding of the Jewish state in Palestine.  His historical importance is that the movement and organization -- the World Zionist Organization -- that he founded led directly to the founding of Israel 55 years later, which is why he is regarded as the father of the nation.

That Pope Francis would pubicly honor the memory of Herzl seems to me to be a direct repudiation of the Zionism-Is-Racism advocates and of those who believe that there is something wrong or evil about Israel existing as a Jewish state.

And it seems that relations between the Vatican and Israel have never been better.

Jeff - add to that, the historical fact that Herzl met with Pius X in 1904 and Pius would not bless or approve of his project because of what the *Jews had done to Jesus*

"We cannot give approval to this movement. We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem—but we could never sanction it. The soil of Jerusalem, if it was not always sacred, has been sanctified by the life of Jesus Christ. As the head of the Church I cannot tell you anything different. The Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people."

Bill deHass -- Yes, there's been quite a reorientation by the Church in its attitude to a Jewish state and to Jews in general.  Many thanks in this regard especially to John XXIII and John Paul II.  And now to Francis.

To me Francis' most impressive speech was at the Shoah Memorial.  He articulates what the rest of us can only feel about man's inhumanity to man.  He quotes the ancient prophets but adds his own powerful expression of existential grief at the horror of it all.  And he implies again the reality of Satan.  Here's the whole thing.  Read it and weep. 



“Adam, where are you?” (cf. Gen 3:9).
Where are you, o man? What have you come to?
In this place, this memorial of the Shoah, we hear God’s question echo once more:“Adam, where are you?”
This question is charged with all the sorrow of a Father who has lost his child.
The Father knew the risk of freedom; he knew that his children could be lost… yet perhaps not even the Father could imagine so great a fall, so profound an abyss!
Here, before the boundless tragedy of the Holocaust, That cry – “Where are you?” – echoes like a faint voice in an unfathomable abyss…

Adam, who are you? I no longer recognize you.
Who are you, o man? What have you become?
Of what horror have you been capable?
What made you fall to such depths?
Certainly it is not the dust of the earth from which you were made.
The dust of the earth is something good, the work of my hands.
Certainly it is not the breath of life which I breathed into you.
That breath comes from me, and it is something good (cf. Gen 2:7).

No, this abyss is not merely the work of your own hands, your own heart… Who corrupted you? Who disfigured you?
Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil?
Who convinced you that you were god? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god. Today, in this place, we hear once more the voice of God: “Adam, where are you?”

From the ground there rises up a soft cry: “Have mercy on us, O Lord!”
To you, O Lord our God, belongs righteousness; but to us confusion of face and shame (cf. Bar 1:15).
A great evil has befallen us, such as never happened under the heavens (cf. Bar 2:2). Now, Lord, hear our prayer, hear our plea, save us in your mercy. Save us from this horror.
Almighty Lord, a soul in anguish cries out to you.
Hear, Lord, and have mercy!
We have sinned against you. You reign for ever (cf. Bar 3:1-2).
Remember us in your mercy. Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done, to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, of having despised and destroyed our own flesh which you formed from the earth, to which you gave life with your own breath of life. Never again, Lord, never again!
“Adam, where are you?”
Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing.
Remember us in your mercy.


Tags: PrayerHolocaustPeacePope Francis in Holy Land

Not surprising that he may have wanted to visit the memorial for the victims of the AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires ... "In 2005, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would later become Pope Francis, was the first public personality to sign a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing case. He was one of the signatories on a document called “85 victims, 85 signatures” as part of the bombing’s 11th anniversary."


Crystal -- With respect to the bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center to which you refer, which killed 85 people and injured hundreds more, in 2006, Argentinian prosecutors formally charged Iran with planning and directing the bombing and Hezbollah with carrying it out.  Cardinal Bergoglio and others' call for justice in 2005 helped light a fire under the government, at least for a little while.

Yes the prayer at the Shoah memorial was very good. The Jewish people have offers the world a powerful witness on how to transform really violent, oppressive things that happen to a people into something that builds up, strengthens, and teaches. From that experience came the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And further they were able to secure a homeland that provided language, culture, and identity. Granted, the whole process could have been worked out a little better and more thoughtfully but still Zionism has some compelling features. However, I prefer Buber's understanding over Herzl's. I think he had it worked out better. Of course Pius X's comment is completely obnoxious and I a ashamed of that. 



Ann -- Pope Francis' remarks at Yad Vashem were eloquent, heartfelt and much appreciated.  Apropos the Holocaust, and this being Memorial Day, here's something else that's very moving to me.

In displaced persons' camps in Germany, Holocaust survivors asked the U.S. Army to assist them in publishing a new edition of the Talmud, which the Army did.  The first volume of what became known as the Survivors' Talmud, contained this dedication: "In all the years of exile it has often happened that various governments and forces have burned Jewish books. Never did any publish them for us.  This is the first time in Jewish history that a government has helped in the publication of the Talmud, which is the source of our being and the length of our days.  The Army of the United States saved us from death, protects us in this land, and through their aid does the Talmud appear again in Germany."

God bless Amerca!



PS - one of the latest things I bought at Amazon was a lawnmower ;)

Oh sorry, wrong thread - heh.

Jeff --

What a great true story :-)

Ann, many thanks for posting Pope Francis' prayer at the Shoah Memorial.

Bill, he invited the presidents to come for prayer at his house. This isn't Camp Vatican. It's an inspiring gesture nonetheless. It underscores that the papacy has enormous symbolic power. Francis seems firmly resolved to use his time in the office to be an icon of the prince of peace who came with good news for the poor and the oppressed. These must be difficult days for the folks who believe the only issue that matters is clergy sexual abuse and episcopal coverup. Francis will take steps to address this but not in a way that could ever satisfy the cynics.

JWH, These are difficult days for folks who think the only issues that matter are restoring Latin to more reverent liturgy and same-sex marriage. They shouldn't be difficult for people who were paying attention, though. More like exhilerating. Btw, he has scheduled what is called his first (implying a second?) meeting with abuse victims.

Apparently the plane ride home wasn't devoid of interest, either.


@ Jim P:

Of all the things discussed during that conversation, WaPost chooses this as their headline: "Rule of celibate priests ‘always open’ to change," because, um, why exactly, I shall never understand. 

Anyway, for those interested, here's the full video of the pope's in-flight convo with the journalists: 

I last saw the Bethlehem "barrier" about 5 years ago.  I had also visited there before the walls, guard towers and barbed wire (there's a lot more than a graffit-splotched wall) were erected and had a hard time believing that it was the same place.

I have driven by my neighborhood "barrier" (San Quentin) many times and my first view of Bethlehem reminded me instantly of SQ.

I seriously question the value of turning frustrated people into prisoners in their own town.  It's a far cry from winning friends and influencing people. I suspect it is an excellent incubator for future "freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose" terrorists.

Maria  - yes, I thought that was sort of the least interesting thing he said, at least as presented in that article.  But three bishops under Vatican investigation for sex-abuse violations, one of whom has a conviction on his record?  Sounds like blockbuster stuff to me.


Abbas and Netanyahu talking together? That's been tried. To move towards peace he should have included Hamas and thrown in Hezbollah! Yes they're terrorists, but come one-you want peace-get beyond the labels and even the atrocious crimes coimmitted.If in South Africa, if in Rwanda ,they could do this, then in spite of the crimes committed by terrorists groups, peace could be had by -well making peace with them! All these peace talks that don't include a party to the conflict is denying reality.Insisting they have to "recognize Israels right to exist prior to making peace" is to deny the arabs the right to their narrative;that for them the creation of the state of israel was an injustice .It does not follow that therefore Israel should not exist today;it is a narrative about origin;that the creation of the state was invalid.It's their persepctive.It would become a moot point if there were a just resolution to the conflict. People have the right to maintain a narrative about their history as they see it. For arabs in what is now israel who were /are displaced they may forever believe that the creation of israel was not a glorious righteous event but an unjust catastrophe.If peace were made ,that fact [for them] would recede into the pages of history.Just as today native Americans may believe that the creation of the US was illigitimate;it does not follow they want to destroy the state of the US or kill all US citizens.But it is a part of a historical narrative. It seems to me that it is Israel's insistence that the arabs such as Hamas declare  the origin of Israel as a noble just  event, that impedes the peace between them.We say the arabs have an honor culture, but it looks like the Israelis do too in having as a condition for peace with Hamas  expecting them to deny their beliefs based on their historical experience;that the creation of israel was for them an injustice.

Jim McCrae -- The benefit is the one pointed out by Crystal Watson earlier: it has saved lives.  But I'm sure that you're correct that there's a detriment, too.  Maybe its a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't situation.  Such situations exist in the world and Crystal Watson has also pointed out some of those.

The only solution is for the parties to make peace, which seems a long way off.  Or for one side to win a complete victory over the other.  Which is what the Arabs tried, but failed, to do in 1947-48, 1967 and 1973. Israel has the ability, but not the inclination, to do that. Besides, the world wouldn't let it if it wanted to.

Paul Elie at his blog says that Pope Frances prayed in Jordan, "May God protect us from the fear of change", and Elie suspects the prayer might be Francis preparing us  for chages to come.  Hmmm.       

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