Pope Francis is proving himself to be one of the most powerful leaders in the world.
On Sunday, he arrived in Bethlehem and made an unexpected stop that surprised everyone: en route to mass in Manger Square, he halted the popemobile and caused a chaotic flurry of press, security, and onlookers as he walked over to the wall that separates Israel from the West Bank. Beneath the graffiti scrawled “Bethlehem,” he reached out, placed his hand on the wall, and prayed.
Only a Holy Father like Francis could pull off this kind of stunt. One small gesture, and the Israeli military in the watchtower above and the Palestinian people below were all at his mercy. He rendered all sides powerless by drawing them into his service, the most counterintuitive service of prayer.
To top it all off, during his sermon at mass, Francis made a historic invitation: “In this place where the Prince of Peace was born, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, and President Shimon Peres, to raise together with me an intense prayer to God for the gift of peace. And I offer my house in the Vatican to host you in this encounter of prayer.”
Within an hour, both leaders had accepted his invitation. What were they going to say, no?
The brilliance in this move goes something like this:
"Hey Peres, I’m in Bethlehem, preaching not in Jerusalem but in Palestinian territory, which happens to be where Jesus who founded my church was born, and don’t forget, I’m about to come to Israel to lay a wreath on the founder of Zionism’s grave. Hey Abbas, I’m visiting Palestine first, before I’m visiting Israel, and I just prayed at the wall, so all eyes are on you right now. I’m going to take this opportunity to invite you both, via my sermon, to come pray with me in the Vatican. And because I just made this historic invitation public, you pretty much are going to have to show up. Also, because Peres’ term expires in two months, this needs to happen ASAP. See you soon!!"
Wink, smile, drop the mic.
This is a pope who understands the power of his position, and knows how to wield it with disarming humility. Buckle up, people. We’re only fourteen months in to his papacy. This is already fun.