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Christians in the Muslim World

The Charisma of Francis

Before and during the visit of the Pope to the Middle East the mass media of the world asked themselves whether this journey would have a political impact on Israeli-Palestinian affairs. Francis, in asking Peres and Abu Mazen to his home, once again eliminated commonplaces and opened up a new horizon.

The French political scientist Dominique Moïsi imagines two scenarios in the last pages of his book The Geopolitics of Emotions: the scenario of fear and that of hope. The date and the place are always the same: November 2025, Tel Aviv.



But the difference could not be greater. In the first case Israel is living the anniversary of the assassination of Rabin in a suffocating climate of near martial law which leads Arabs and Jews who have the opportunity to do so to leave the country. In the second case, on the other hand, Israel is commemorating together with the Palestinians the fifth anniversary of the Middle East peace treaty in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and rediscovered confidence. And from the Middle East this feeling reverberates around the world, yet with very different results. Indeed, although the Middle East peace treaty imagined for the year 2020 is made possible by renewed multilateral action, the scenario of fear is characterised by an inability to communicate.



The exercise of Moïsi is certainly not very conventional but it nonetheless enables the reader to understand immediately how relevant the Israeli-Palestinian question is for the region and for the rest of the world. It is like those ICT processes that are in the background: even when the user does not see them, they continue to operate, to consume resources and to slow down the system. And on the Israeli-Palestinian question, after the failure of the Kerry initiative, the curtain really seemed to have fallen, until, that is, the visit of Francis.



The Pope evoked the basic stance of the Holy See in favour of two States but he was careful not to provide a pre-packaged political solution. He said this clearly to journalists on his return journey: “I do not feel myself qualified to say: ‘this or that or this should be done’, because it would be folly on my part. But I believe that one must enter with honesty, brotherhood and mutual trust the road of negotiation. And there you negotiate everything: the whole of the territory, relations as well”. One need only read the comments on the visit to see how much nervousness had accumulated around it: accusations of a lack of balance, a very severe article in the Jerusalem Post which declared that by now the golden age of the relations between Jews and Christians was over, politicisation always around the corner, even in the details because, as Fr. Neuhaus, the Patriarchal Vicar for Arab-speaking Arabs observed, “everyone tries to get the Pope, and also God, on their side”. Francis chose to place himself on another level, the level of symbols. On the return flight they asked him if he had prepared such symbols and he replied that he had not. “The gestures, those that are the most authentic, are those that are not thought up beforehand, they are those that come on their own, is that not the case? I thought: something could be done…; but concrete gestures, none of them was thought up beforehand…I don’t know, I am moved to do something, but it is spontaneous, that’s how it is”. The meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian Presidents, as well, was changed at the last minute into a moment of prayer. However a gesture is not sentimental move, it is not an appeal spoken into the void. A minimum of mutual trust should be reconstructed because, without that, sitting at the negotiating table is not only useless, it is also counterproductive.



Gestures have the value of witness (or counter-witness, like the different dates for Easter of the Catholics and the Orthodox, on which Francis asked for an agreement to be reached quickly). They move emotions and thus, as Moïsi would say, direct choices, political choices as well. It is curious that in the 2025 imagined by the French political scientist all the great world actors are named (the United States of America, China, India, even the European Union), but with one exception: the religious leaders. Pope Francis demonstrated that it is a grave error not to take them into consideration. They know how to mobilise consciences and this is what Francis did. He is a great communicator – this is something that everyone admits. In Christian terms one would say: he has charisma.