Vatican City, 26 May 2014 (VIS) – Early this morning the Holy Father visited the Esplanade of the Mosques, or Temple Mount. An artificial esplanade, trapezoid in shape, it occupies a sixth of the surface area of the Old City. This area is significant for the three monotheistic religions, and is thrice holy: for Jews, it is the place where Abraham would have sacrificed Isaac, as well as the site of the Temple of Solomon; for Muslims, it is the third destination for pilgrims after Mecca and Medina; and for Christians, it is the place of Christ's prophecy of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. In the area there are two of most important Muslim shrines, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
The Pope's car entered by the al-Asbat gate and arrived at the entrance of the Dome of the Rock, where he was received by the Great Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Husayn, supreme judicial-religious authority of Jerusalem and the Arab Muslim people in Palestine, and the director-general of the council of the “Waqf” (Islamic religious assets). After a brief visit he was accompanied to the Al-Kubbah Al-Nahawiyya building, where he was awaited by the high representatives of the Islamic community.
“Following in the footsteps of my predecessors, and in particular the historic visit of Pope Paul VI fifty years ago, the first visit of a Pope to the Holy Land, I have greatly desired to come as a pilgrim to the places which witnessed the earthly presence of Jesus Christ”, said the Pope. But my pilgrimage would not be complete if it did not also include a meeting with the people and the communities who live in this Land. I am particularly happy, therefore, to be with you, dear Muslim faithful, brothers. Francis recalled Abraham, “who lived as a pilgrim in these lands. Muslims, Christians and Jews see in him, albeit in different ways, a father in faith and a great example to be imitated. He became a pilgrim, leaving his own people and his own house in order to embark on that spiritual adventure to which God called him”.
The Pope went on to describe a pilgrim as, like Abraham, “a person who makes himself poor and sets forth on a journey. Pilgrims set out intently toward a great and longed-for destination, and they live in the hope of a promise received. This was how Abraham lived, and this should be our spiritual attitude. We can never think ourselves self-sufficient, masters of our own lives. We cannot be content with remaining withdrawn, secure in our convictions. Before the mystery of God we are all poor. We realise that we must constantly be prepared to go out from ourselves, docile to God’s call and open to the future that he wishes to create for us.
“In our earthly pilgrimage we are not alone. We cross paths with other faithful; at times we share with them a stretch of the road and at other times we experience with them a moment of rest which refreshes us. Such is our meeting today, for which I am particularly grateful. It is a welcome and shared moment of rest, made possible by your hospitality, on the pilgrimage of our life and that of our communities. We are experiencing a fraternal dialogue and exchange which are able to restore us and offer us new strength to confront the common challenges before us”.
“Nor can we forget that the pilgrimage of Abraham was also a summons to righteousness”, he continued. “God wanted him to witness his way of acting and to imitate him. We too wish to witness to God’s working in the world, and so, precisely in this meeting, we hear deep within us his summons to work for peace and justice, to implore these gifts in prayer and to learn from on high mercy, magnanimity and compassion”.
In conclusion, the Pope launched an appeal to “all communities who look to Abraham: 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! May we work together for justice and peace! Salaam!”