Pope Francis is soon going to be visiting a variety of locations within the Middle East from May 24th until May 26th.
His visit is not only important in its own right, but it has two features that have drawn much attention: firstly, that he will be traveling with leaders from the Jewish and Muslim communities, and secondly, that he has refused to spend his time traveling in a bulletproof car. He will be traveling with Jewish Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim Sheik Omar Abboud.
The Middle East has been considered for thousands of years by many people as a specially holy and sacred place. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all draw their roots to specific locations within the Middle East. Sadly, this has also led to much conflict over the years, as people from different faith groups wish to own the land on which holy sites are located. It has been very difficult for places like Jerusalem, holy in all three religions, to remain open and accessible for all that wish to worship there. By taking this journey with Jewish and Muslim faith leaders, the Pope is recognizing that Christianity shares with these two faith groups many things, and it is hoped that this step will lead to greater understanding and tolerance.
The Pope’s visit will, however, undoubtedly be a dangerous one, and so his refusal to travel in a bulletproof car has worried many people, anxious over the pontiff’s safety. However, Pope Francis has travelled in his own personal Fiat when on a visit to Rio de Janeiro, and nothing frightening occurred to him. It is hoped that the tensions between religious groups that can be found in the Middle East will not spill over into this visit.
The numbers of Christians living in the Middle East has decreased rapidly over the last few years, and many hope that this show of support and solidarity will help encourage the Christian population.
“We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians,” the Pope said.