Pope Francis Keeps Insisting On Recognizing the Palestinians As Fully Human, Like Jesus Maybe Would Have

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Photo from NBC News. Front photo courtesy of Debbie Hill, Catholic News Service

In two unprecedented moves last week, Pope Francis for the first time legally recognized "the state of Palestine" and bestowed sainthood on two 19th-century Palestinian nuns, thus symbolically but convincingly supporting the rights of the oppressed in a markedly Christian manner. Canonized Sunday in Saint Peter's Square as the first Arabic-speaking Catholic saints were Sister Maryam Baouardy, who founded a Carmelite convent in Bethlehem, and Sister Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas, founder of the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem. Francis said of the two women, “Their luminous example challenges us in our lives as Christians.” Attending the ceremony were over 2,000 pilgrims from the region, senior clergy and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Francis had earlier called “an angel of peace.” Abbas said the canonization “affirms our determination to build a sovereign, independent and free Palestine based on the principles of equal citizenship.”

The first-ever recognition of the key role played by Palestinian Christians in the history of the region - thus demolishing the myth that its endless cycle of violence stems from a Muslim east warring with a Christian/Jewish west - came just days after Francis announced a new accord with "the state of Palestine." The act, which formalized the Vatican's and most noticeably Francis' de facto recognition of the rights of Palestinians, was considered a huge symbolic victory for Palestinian sovereignty given the Pope's international stature and "vast moral significance." Its timing was even more dramatic: It came on Nakba Day, the commemoration of Israel's 1948 ethnic cleansing and removal from their ancestral homes of over 700,000 Palestinians. Francis' action was praised by Issa Kassissieh, Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See, for its "message that the Holy Land is a land of peace, not a land of war, and this land should be where people build bridges, not walls...He is determined to keep hope in the hearts and minds of our people." In dispiriting contrast, American right-wingers blasted the entry of the Vatican into politics because they sure never mix religion and politics, and Israel's Foreign Ministry said it was "disappointed” by the Vatican’s decision, which would “not advance the peace process.” The Times of Israel editor David Horovitz lamented the Pope "doesn't get it," adding, "Every time something like this happens, there’s this sense of anguish - why don’t you understand?" - a response that, in its lack of understanding, leaves us speechless, except for wanting to praise what, in a relative universe, is the luminous example of Pope Francis.

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Photo by Alessandra Tarantino/AP

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