A diabolic mockery... the aftermath of the Pope's prayers for peace

St George, saint of the Holy Land, pray for us

A few nights ago I was watching a TV mini-series on the Nuremburg trial of the Nazi leaders, when a line from the Jewish psychologist attached to the accused caught my attention:

"Evil is the absence of empathy..."

Then, earlier today, I came across this saying from a Serbian Orthodox Church spiritual elder:

"As long as we pay attention to the negative sides of various people we meet, we will not find peace and repentance. As long as we keep in ourselves the thought of offence, caused to us by enemies, friends, family and neighbours, we will not find peace and quiet and we will live in a hellish state."
+Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica 

 Both of these quotations caught my attention in the midst of the most tense and difficult time I have known in the six years I have been visiting Palestine and Israel. The situation is troubling and confusing, but these two quotations brought some clarity.

Both sides have lost any real sense for the 'other', and easily descend into generalisations which lump everyone on the other side as 'the enemy'. This is the lack of empathy, which opens the doors of hell. When you no longer see your neighbour, you see a thing, a disposable object, something less worthy, sub-human. You no longer see children and parents, you loose sight that the other is just like you. And then you treat them despicably without respect, without love... and they come to fear you, and to hate you. And so the nose tightens, injustice roots itself and violence becomes the norm. And then the fear deepens, the hate grows, and you see even less humanity in your neighbour and project all sorts of evil onto them. Then you unleash hell on them, and they seek revenge in return. And so the noose tightens, evil smiles, and the game continues.

The past three weeks have seen all of this, casting a dark pall which obfuscates the ray of hope which Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch brought when they first visited here, and then hosted the prayers for peace at the Vatican. Pope Francis managed to reverse this diabolic process, even if for just a few hours, as his gestures made people feel respected for simply being human. That was what the young Muslim Palestinian said when Pope Francis stepped down from his car and prayed at the separation wall. Its what the Jewish Holocaust survivor expressed when he said, 'not even my rabbi has kissed my hand'.

Pope Francis put into practice the advice of Elder Thaddeus, showing himself a true follower of Christ, and a brother in spirit to the Orthodox who treasure the spiritual way of conversion of heart. Here it is the only way out of this bloody, hate filled, life destroying, depressing mess. Abductions, murders... now even a Facebook page where young Israelis celebrate calling for revenge, even as a 16yr old Arab is abducted and murdered in the middle of Jerusalem. It is like hell is being whipped up on earth, even around the most holy sites on the planet. A diabolic mockery.

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