Pope Francis has finished his visit to the Middle East with a particular focus on Israel. It may come as something of a surprise that no pope travelled to Israel in nearly two thousand years until Paul VI did so, then John Paul II, and Benedict.
Francis managed a delicate balancing act during his three days in the Holy Land. He took in a number of significant Christian sites, as might be expected. He was attentive to Judaism as well, spending time at the Western Wall, visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, and meeting with concentration camp survivors. He also made a nod to Zionism, as the first pope to visit the grave of Theodor Herzl, the movement's founder.
Francis also reaffirmed the Vatican's long-standing commitment to a Palestinian state, and he visited a refugee camp near Bethlehem. "I am with you" he told children in the camp. In an unscripted move he stopped at another wall, the separation barrier between Israel and the Palestinian territories. He spoke with those for whom this wall has resulted in considerable hardship. Francis also offered to meet with the presidents of Israel and the West Bank at the Vatican.
All of these visits and contacts by the leader of the largest Christian denomination were significant and I do feel that he managed to convey balance in a region where it is so difficult not to take sides.
Were you aware of the visit by Pope Francis and the ways in which he responded to all perspectives? Can religious leaders play a part in resolving this complex situation?