VATICAN CITY — The interfaith prayer for peace in the Middle East held by Pope Francis last Sunday reminds us that peace is not a work of people, but a work of God, said a key participant in the event.
Margaret Karram, an Arab Christian with Israeli citizenship, was the only woman in the Holy See delegation for the prayer held in the Vatican Gardens June 8.
“I have lived in the Holy Land most of my life, and when I arrived here, I saw that we were going to pray all together: Jews and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis. … That meant to me that we really have to believe in peace,” Karram told CNA.
On Pentecost Sunday, the Pope and Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, met with Presidents Shimon Peres of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine at the Vatican to offer prayers, talk about peace and exchange symbols that represent a move towards peace.
The evening’s prayer was divided into three parts, following the chronological ordering of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religious communities. Prayers were offered in Hebrew, English, Italian and Arabic, praising God for creation, asking pardon for sin and requesting the gift of peace.
Pope Francis and the two presidents planted an olive tree and spoke about the need for peace. The presidents, the patriarch and Pope Francis also exchanged a sign of peace and gathered for a private discussion.
For 12 years, Karram was the Focolare movement’s director for the Holy Land, moving a couple of months ago to work at the Focolare Movement’s International Center in Grottaferrata, not far from Rome.
In 2013, she was awarded with the Mount Zion prize, together with the Jewish woman Yisca Harani, for “the important effort to the development among religions and cultures in the Holy Land and to the mutual understanding between Jewish, Christians and Muslims.”
When the Vatican asked Focolare for a woman to be included in the papal delegation, representing both the movement and the effort for peace, group president Maria Voce immediately thought of Karram. “It was a great privilege for me to be representing the Focolare movement,” Karram said of Voce’s choice.
At the invocation for prayer, Karram was also charged of reading the Prayer of St. Francis.
According to her, Sunday’s event proves that peace “can be only granted by God. Only God can change our hearts, and if we change our hearts, we can change our relationships, and we can believe in peace more.”
On the three-part prayer, Karram noticed that, for their intentions, Muslims added some words off the cuff — “words I think were not supposed to be said.”
“What I understood is that they really wanted to underline their feelings, their suffering, their being oppressed. I think they wanted to say: ‘We are here! We want peace!’ But we do not have to forget that this peace has to be just and that no one would ever forget our suffering,” Karram said.
She added that she hopes that “even these words not written but said may help people to understand that there is a long way to go” to achieve peace.
As a Christian who had lived in the Holy Land for most of her life, Karram said that “being Christian and living in the Holy Land is a great challenge, because Christians are the minority, just 2% of the population.”
“It is a great challenge also because many Christians left the Holy Land, which is sad, because the Holy Land is for all of us and — as Christians — we have a message to give to the world, and it is important for Christians to be present there,” she said.
Karram explained that people emigrate “because they don’t see any future for their children, and they wish to be in a safe place.” She hopes that “these people, wherever they can be, bear witness to their Christian faith and be an instrument of peace in other countries.”
Andrea Gagliarducci is Catholic News Agency's Vatican observer.