In the passage from the Book of Acts for Pentecost Sunday’s first reading, the Holy Spirit breathes a sense of purpose into Jesus’ apostles. Now they understand their mission to spread the Good News. Pope Francis, taking a cue from the Holy Spirit, invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents — whose constituents are locked in an intractable conflict — to pray for peace with the Holy Father at the Vatican on Pentecost Sunday.
Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas each accepted the pope’s invitation during his May 24-26 trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. The political leaders’ receptiveness to praying together, in itself, would seem to be an answer to prayer. However, some political observers dismiss Peres as a figurehead and criticize Abbas, leader of Fatah, for embracing rival Palestinian organization Hamas, which is committed to destroying Israel. Fatah and Hamas plan to form a Palestinian Unity government, to the dismay of Israel.
But the naysayers don’t appreciate the power of prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who has been guiding the Church for more than two millennia. Prayer gives Pope Francis hope and the strength to practice what he preaches. He expects nothing less for his two prayer partners joining him at the Vatican on June 8.
The Holy Father seeks to diffuse tensions which enwrap the Middle East and cause unrelenting suffering and persecution. Only prayer can begin the process to bring about change. So, he also called on all the world’s Christians to pray for peace in the Middle East, during his May 28 general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Catholic News Service reported that participants in the general audience applauded Pope Francis’ announcement of the prayer invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents. The pope, in turn, asked the audience “to pray hard so that the Lord gives us peace in that blessed land. I am counting on your prayers — pray hard and a lot, so that peace may come.”
He cautioned that peace can’t be magically mass produced to create a world free of conflict. Peace, he said, “is created day-by-day, hand-crafted by individuals whose hearts are open to God’s gift of peace.”
When we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and attune ourselves to the Holy Spirit at work in our daily activities and decision-making, we become more capable of humility, fraternity and reconciliation in our interactions with people of different cultures and religions.
We become less self-righteous, less self-centered, more concerned about the other, those in need of life’s basic necessities of food, water, shelter, clothing and love. We become more willing to welcome the stranger, the immigrant, the voiceless, anyone who is vulnerable.
The Holy Spirit calls us to community. In the passage from Acts, Jews from every nation under heaven were staying in Jerusalem. They were astounded to hear the Spirit-filled disciples of Jesus speak to them in their own language, even though the disciples were all Galileans. But they were speaking of the mighty acts of God, and that made all the difference in the world.
Let us pray hard, and a lot, as Pope Francis has requested so that peace may come: in the Middle East as well as in our own hearts.