Pope Francis currently plans to visit Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, May 24-26. This will be his second trip to Jerusalem.
The Pope's first visit was 41 years ago. On that trip, he arrived in Jerusalem in October, 1973, just before war began between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
That war was fought between a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria, against Israel. The war lasted from October 6 to October 25.
On his second trip to Jerusalem in May, 2014, there will be no war to interrupt the Pope's journey. There is, however, a labor strike by Israeli diplomatic personnel which began this week. The unions are striking for higher wages and better working conditions.
At first it was believed the Pope's trip would be delayed or cancelled, since diplomatic personnel are needed to handle such a high profile visitor. However, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's Secretary of State, has said that while the strike has caused "some apprehensions," the trip will not be delayed.
The Vatican is especially eager to have the Pope's visit coincide with the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's visit, the first in modern times. Since that 1963 visit, two more Popes have come to visit, Pope John Paul II in 2000 and Benedict XVI in 2009.
The Times of Israel reports that in October 1973, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, made his first visit to Jerusalem. Bergolio, then in his mid-30s, stopped in Jerusalem after completing training in Rome for his new job as the Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus in Argentina.
When the war began, Father Bergoglio was confined to the American Colony Hotel, in East Jerusalem. The Vatican recalls he spent his time "studying the Letters of Saint Paul to the Corinthians." During his enforced stay at the American Colony, he read books he borrowed from the library of the Jerusalem branch of the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
We may never know if young Father Bergoglio put aside his study of the letters of Paul long enough to cross the parking lot of the American Colony Hotel to visit the book store there. If he had done so, he could have discovered some important volumes about the political situation in 1973, and the history of the Arab-Israeli war that had started during his visit.
It happens that a few weeks after that Arab-Israeli war ended in late October, 1973, I made the first of my more than 20 trips to the region. Like Father Bergoglio, I stayed at the American Colony Hotel. I was originally scheduled to make my trip at the same time as Father Bergoglio, but I waited until the war had ended.
That is a choice I regret, if only because I missed my chance to meet the future Pope Francis.
With no war to distract me, and no future Pope still in residence, a few weeks after Father Bergoglio stayed six days at the American Colony in 1973, I arrived at the American Colony Hotel. I was there because as the new editor of The Christian Century magazine, a trip was arranged for me (but not financed) by the American Jewish Committee.
Like the future Pope Francis a few weeks earlier, I followed the usual Israeli-controlled schedule. Until, that is, with the help of an American Mennonite missionary stationed in Jerusalem, I ditched my Israeli minder.
Together with Leroy Frison, I traveled into the West Bank for a life-changing journey, first to Jericho and then to Birzeit College (now a university). There I met (for the first of many times) the school's young president, Hanna Nasir, and a young college professor, Hanan Ashrawi, newly arrived from graduate studies in Virginia. (Click on the names of Nasir and Ashrawi to learn what happened to them after 1973)
One reason for my regret that I did not arrive at the American Colony when Father Bergoglio was there, is that had we been fellow residents in the cozy atmosphere of the American Colony, the two of us might have hit it off. We might have walked together across the parking lot to visit the book store a few steps from the front door of the hotel.
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