It was, in many, ways the kind of day we’ve come to expect when an official visit is made by a head of state. The usual brouhaha, media and security detail, with all the requisite, intricately-planned photo ops and handshakes. There were speeches and flowers, a choir, male soloist and elegantly-dressed diva to boot. Welcoming messages from children in three languages, including Italian and Arabic.
Blessings over children living with cancer. Men of the cloak from multiple religions, some with turbans, others with tall hats. A fair trade of gifts, dangling off pleas for harmony. There was talk of religion, war and peace. Symbolically, an olive tree was planted. This was Jerusalem, after all. Just days ahead of Yom Yerushalayim, the day of the Eternal City’s reunification, the Pope came to town.
I’m not one for pomp and circumstance, and I’m personally more inclined to the secular or spiritual in belief and observance than the religious. However, in that respect, one aspect that struck me was the irony of head coverings; in a city known for its plethora of religious sites and observant Jews, where most Jewish men wear yarmulkes (kippahs), the President’s head remained uncovered while the Pope donned his usual cap ‘n cape.
The two men sat on a raised stage, looking out at the sea of well-wishers, parents, journalists, paparazzi, academics and analysts. One reporter noted that there were more smartphones in the audience than people. Another noted that the Pope had been served, this morning, his favorite Argentinian tea, perhaps an advisable or auspicious start to his busy day.
As he wrapped up a full day in and around the city of gold, I wondered: From beyond the darkened and secured windowpanes of his car as he was driven to different points in the country, from the middle of his closely-watched and guided entourage, from his perch on the stage, and from the place where he stood alone at the wall reading a prayer, what did the Pope really see? Did he see the people, the soldiers, the travelers, the Jews, Arabs, Palestinians and Christians? Did he see the nature, the desert, the camels and birds? Did he smell the sweet fragrance of the frangipani blooms, the salt water, the fish on a grill? Did he wave to the kids on their bikes, the young Ethiopian women in their army fatigues, the paratroopers on overnight patrol, the Druze men on the hill?
What if, once in awhile, it were possible for official itineraries to veer off the beaten track, providing an esteemed visitor a glimpse into the real lives of locals? Nu, what then?