Noel Muscat OFM
After months of preparation, at long last, your visit to the Holy Land will become a reality. You will come as a pilgrim of peace. You will come to repeat the gesture of your holy predecessor, Pope Paul VI, way back in 1964. You will come to smile at this Land and to bless this Land… welcome, Pope Francis.
May your visit bring peace to all who have invited you. Maybe it will not be a visit to your liking. You will not be allowed to break protocol rules and be spontaneous. Indeed, many poor Christians in the Holy Land will be kept far away from your embrace. Security rules dictate that your person needs to be protected against potential terrorists. For this reason, every hand outstretched to embrace your loving gaze will be considered as a potential threat. This will sadden you. But please accept the reality of this Land.
You will be whisked away in planes and helicopters to attend formal greeting ceremonies and shake hands with dignitaries who present themselves as advocates of peace and justice in this Land. You will smile at them and courteously repay their respects with your soft-spoken style. But you know that the dire reality is very different from what it appears on the surface. You know that your visit will benefit the reputation and good name of politics, strategies and diplomacy, and that it will be hard to be blunt if you need to be accepted as a welcome guest. Please accept the reality of this Land.
You will embrace other Christians, knowing that Paul VI did the same 50 years ago. Some things have changed. Many have not. Jerusalem is still a divided city. It is still the emblem of a divided Christianity. Please accept the reality of this Land.
Welcome, Pope Francis. In just two and a half days you will set foot on three countries, or two if you like. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you set foot on the Holy Land. You will be waved goodbye by all those who have travelled to see you and returned home without having had the opportunity of catching a glimpse of you. You will be waved goodbye by hawks in dove’s clothing who will continue with their plans to divide and conquer. You will be waved goodbye by Churchmen who would never dream of making your courageous choices in their lives. May God bless your visit among us, Holy Father. May your visit give the right message to all of us… no need for many words, mind you. We are sick and tired of them. Just your gaze will suffice to nail us to the truth of who we are in this Land where Jesus Christ was crucified, nailed to a cross. Goodbye, Pope Francis. Please, accept the reality of this Land…. this Holy Land.