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ICC Note: During the Pope’s visit, the world watched to understand his motives for the dangerous visit to the Middle East. Some even labeled his visit a “propaganda war” as he stopped at several controversial places to pray. The Pope’s actions reveal his ultimate concern: the dwindling Christian population. As the number of Christians continue to dwindle from the region, The Pope hopes to establish a connection between Muslims and Christians again to relieve this violent persecution. 

By: Emma Green

5/27/14 Israel (The Atlantic) – On the second day of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land over the weekend, Pope Francis got in trouble. Several media outlets called it a “propaganda war”: The pontiff made an unscheduled stop to pray at the wall that divides Jerusalem from Bethlehem, which is in the West Bank; the following day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompanied him on yet another unscheduled visit, this time to an Israeli memorial for victims of terrorism. There were endless photo ops—a competition to capture the pope’s most politically poignant moment: praying at the Western Wall, praying on the banks of the Jordan River, praying before a Palestinian security checkpoint covered with Arabic graffiti.

But even though Francis met with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, his trip wasn’t about the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was about Christians.

They’re the forgotten stakeholders of Jerusalem: People like the nuns who live on the Via Dolorosa, the road Jesus walked to his crucifixion; the Franciscan priests who maintain the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed before his death; and, perhaps most importantly, the shrinking number of Arab Christians who live in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and surrounding countries. On the Vatican-run website dedicated to the pope’s trip, there are several sections about the persecution of Palestinian Christians, emphasizing that they are “faced by an exclusivist Islamic movement that often refuses to recognize Christians as co-citizens with equal rights, equal obligations, and equal opportunities.”

In an audience with members of the Muslim community, including Muhammed Hussein, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Francis indirectly echoed this concern. He spoke of the role of Abraham in Christianity and Islam and the “fraternal dialogue” between the two faiths, but he closed with a rallying cry that seemed like an expression of mild disapproval: “May we respect and love one another as brothers and sisters! May we learn to understand the sufferings of others! May no one abuse the name of God through violence!”

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