VATICAN CITY — Vatican officials insist no political agenda is lurking behind Pope Francis' invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to pray for peace together in the Vatican gardens, and no concrete initiatives are expected.
But Sunday's unusual summit — with Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers intoned in the shadow of St. Peter's Basilica — could take on great significance on the ground. And it will certainly enhance Francis' reputation as a leader unhindered by diplomatic and theological protocol who is willing to take risks for the sake of peace.
The prayer was organized in the two weeks since Francis first made the surprise invitation from the biblical city of Bethlehem. On Sunday, he asked the crowd attending his weekly noon blessing to join in with their own prayers as well.
As Palestinian flags fluttered in the breeze, Francis pressed the importance of "surprise" in the Catholic Church, saying a church that doesn't have the ability to surprise with its message of love is "weak, sick and dying and needs CPR."