"Big Four" Highlights


Spiritual Father

Pope Francis went as a loving father to the Holy Land

By Marge Fenelon

From May 24-26, 2014, I traveled with the Catholic Press Association as part of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to Israel and his meeting with Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The trip proved significant, historically and for me personally. I saw up close the worldwide appeal of Francis and how he approaches situations with the strength, character and compassion of a good father.

Pope Francis’ first stop in the Holy Land on May 24 was a courtesy visit to the King and Queen of Jordan, after which he met with the kingdom’s authorities. In his address, he expressed gratitude for all that’s been done to ease tensions in the Middle East and to encourage dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The Holy Father also acknowledged the good that’s been done already, lovingly encouraging more such efforts in the future.

Pope Francis is welcomed by Jordan's King Abdullah II during an arrival ceremony in Amman.

Later that afternoon Francis traveled to Amman and said Mass in the International Stadium. He urged us in his homily to consider our filial relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ, toward unity and compassion for one another:

“Through the anointing of the Spirit, our human nature is sealed with the holiness of Jesus Christ and we are enabled to love our brothers and sisters with the same love which God has for us,” he said. “We ought, therefore, to show concrete signs of humility, fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation. These signs are the prerequisite of a true, stable and lasting peace. Let us ask the Father to anoint us so that we may fully become his children, ever more conformed to Christ, and may learn to see one another as brothers and sisters. Thus, by putting aside our grievances and divisions, we can show fraternal love for one another.”

Ending the first day at Bethany, the Holy Father met with refugees of the Syrian civil war and disabled young people. That in itself was a sign of his fatherly concern for his children, doing what all good fathers do when their children are at odds – step in and call on them to stop fighting.

He said, “May the violence cease and may humanitarian law be respected, thus ensuring much needed assistance to those who are suffering! May all parties abandon the attempt to resolve issues by the use of arms and return to negotiations. A solution will only be found through dialogue and restraint, through compassion for those who suffer, through the search for a political solution and through a sense of fraternal responsibility.”

On May 25, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, rejoicing in gathering at the Table of the Lord with his spiritual children, in much the same way as fathers rejoice in gathering around the table with their children. Afterwards the Holy Father lunched with families from the Franciscan convent of Casa Nova and greeted children from local refugee camps. Each time, he extended his arms in fatherly compassion – physically as well as figuratively.

Fathers must lead by example, and Pope Francis clearly did this when he met in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem with Patriarch Bartholomew I on May 26. The meeting commemorated the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. For Francis, however, it seemed more than just an anniversary; it presented an opportunity to reach out to his separated brother, showing the way for all estranged people to humbly make amends. The Holy Father signed a Common Declaration with the Patriarch, agreeing to continue to seek ways toward reuniting East and West.

Later that last day, Pope Francis reached out to our Jewish brethren by visiting the Western Wall and the Jewish Holocaust museum Yad Veshem. He met with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and invited both Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to come together at the Vatican to pray for peace in the Middle East. Not only did both of those officials accept the invitation, but Patriarch Bartholomew joined them at the June 8 meeting. Unfortunately, hostilities between Palestine and Israel broke out a month later, with missiles being exchanged on a daily basis as the pope called for a ceasefire.

Throughout his trip to the Holy Land, Pope Francis was a man of great humility and simplicity, with gentle mannerisms, genuine smiles and loving gazes. Despite obviously being tired, the Holy Father still gave his full attention to others, from the children’s choir on stage behind him, to the professional singers beside him, to the Israeli president sitting across from him. In every way, he projected the aura of a true spiritual father, and I’m grateful to have witnessed it personally.

Marge Fenelon is a Catholic wife, mother, author, columnist, and speaker. Her latest book is Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press).