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Division of Walls - A Reflection by Chris McDonnell.
The building of a wall is a skill that has served mankind well over many thousands of years.Without walls, we wouldn't have the magnificent buildings that are now scattered over the face of our planet, many of them hundreds of years old, built in stone that must have taken unimaginable skill and technical ingenuity to construct.
All well and good.
But in our time the word Wall has taken on another significant new meaning. When in August 1961, the construction began of the wall that was to divide the city of Berlin in East Germany for the next 28 years, crossing the Wall took on a whole new meaning. That wall was built to contain and repress the people of East Berlin, to prevent movement and to instil fear. In subsequent years many people died in their attempt to gain their freedom in the hazardous journey from East to West.
The photograph that heads this posting may become the iconic image of the recent visit by Francis to the Holy Land. It brings out the sharp frustration of a people divided by the concrete blocks that divide communities as the Bishop of Rome rests his head against the graffiti covered slabs in Bethlehem. It was a silent renewal of Ronald Regan's plea when he spoke before crowds at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, addressing the Soviet President, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall".
The politics of people power brought that to fruition two years later when the Soviet bloc crumbled and the Wall was breached and eventually destroyed.
Now the invitation has gone out to the President of Israel and the President of Palestine to join with Pope Francis in Rome to pray for a peace that doesn't require Walls of division.
"In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with Israeli President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace," he said. "I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer"
The telling word for me is that Francis offers his "home" as the gathering ground.
There is something intimate, friendly and welcoming in that phrase, echoing the Gospel of Matthew, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest".
Put another way, "Come round to my place and let us pray together".
In the complexities of modern political relationships, the pain of conflict is a shared experience for both sides get hurt when confidence in each other fails. So later in Jerusalem he also visited the Wall that is the memorial, for loss through conflict in recent years, for Israel. Later Francis visited the much earlier Temple Wall, all that remains of the great Temple of Jerusalem brought low by the Roman siege of 70 AD, where his prayer offering of the Our Father was placed between the ancient stones as he stood silently, alone before their awesome presence.
One of the many murals painted on the Wall that still stretches across parts of Belfast, the consequence of Ireland's troubled past, includes the words "peace by piece". Maybe that is how it has to come about, a bit at a time, till everything is in place. Such walls will only be dismantled when there is consent and trust between those divided by their presence.
We must hope and pray that the legacy from this recent pilgrimage will be the sharing of prayer between the Church of the West and of the East and a deeper understanding between Muslim and Jew in the home of a Christian, the Bishop of Rome, for all of us call God ‘Our Father'.