Challenging Unholy Walls

May 29, 2014

Over the weekend, Pope Francis made his first papal visit to the Holy Land. As he has done throughout his time as leader of Catholic Church, he used his actions to send powerful messages about Christianity. He visited Jordan and the Palestinian Territories before heading to Israel, which made the powerful nation have to wait longer. He is the first pope to visit the Palestinians before going to Israel. While in Bethlehem, he noticed the wall Israel built that cuts off the Palestinian people and adds to to their struggles. In fact, the travel restrictions Israel places on Palestinians even kept many Palestinian Christians in Gaza from being allowed to travel to see Francis. In an action that apparently was not planned, he had his caravan stop so he could walk over to it and pray. He silently prayed for four minutes as he touched the wall with his hand and forehead. The graffiti on the wall next to him declared, "Free Palestine." Although he later also visiting the "wailing wall" in Jerusalem where pilgrims often stop to pray, his stop at the separation wall (or "apartheid wall" as graffiti near where Francis prayed called it) offered a powerful counter-image of faith.

When Francis made it to Israel, he created a bit of a diplomatic stir when he interrupted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer a correction. During a joint appearance, Netanyahu attempted to use linguistics to make a political point about his people being like Jesus. So Netanyahu declared that "Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew." Before he could continue, however, Francis interjected "Aramaic." Netanyahu gave a bit of ground admitting that, but still insisted Jesus also knew Hebrew. Scholars back Francis's point that Jesus's primary language was Aramaic. But even if it had been Hebrew, that would not give Netanyahu a free pass to mistreat people and still claim to be like Jesus. After all, his government had just destroyed 1,500 fruit trees on the land of a Palestinian Christian family. Regardless what language one speaks, such injustice must be condemned.

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