Four days after the Vatican recognized Palestine as a state, the Pope canonized two Palestinian saints. Is the Pope making his preferences known in the dispute in the Middle East? Much as the international left and the media would hope so, a closer read would indicate no—that much more than that, and much greater subtleties, are afoot. For those seeking to understand, a good place to start is The Wall Street Journal‘s profile of one of the newly-canonized saints:
Mariam Baouardy was born into a Greek-Catholic family in Nazareth in 1846. Orphaned at two years of age, she was adopted by her uncle who, in 1854, moved to Alexandria, Egypt. Unknown to her, she was secretly engaged to be married at 12. She canceled the engagement by cutting off her hair, angering her aunt and uncle, who confined her to household servitude. Knowing her anguish, another servant invited her to renounce her faith. When she refused, she was struck with a scimitar and left for dead in the street. After recovering and working as a domestic servant in Alexandria, Jerusalem and Beirut, she entered the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition in 1865.
During the canonization ceremony at the start of Mass, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, recalled that St. Mariam had been nearly killed in an attempt to force her to convert to Islam. The liturgy also included a prayer for “persecuted Christians.”
So, the Pope has canonized two Palestinian saints, but one of them turns out to have been the victim of an attempted forced marriage and an attempted forced conversion at knifepoint. Both saints were, of course, religious minorities. And while the Pope himself was, according to the Journal, mute on the modern implications, the liturgy could not have been said without his approval.
As we wrote last week, Papal diplomacy is very subtle. On the one hand, Francis has recently spoken out more forcefully than any Catholic leader has in a generation against religious persecution in the Middle East, naming the Armenian genocide a genocide and the war against ISIS a just war. On the other hand, he has recognized Palestine. Now this gesture—which gives the Palestinian people, as was reported, a further measure of legitimacy, but points toward a very different Palestine than there is today.
The Catholic Church is, among other things, the West’s oldest diplomatic institution. Its workings, and its diplomacy, are complicated and multi-faceted. A media less obsessed with the “narrative” could do a good service explicating it. As Patrick Brennan and Ellen Carmichael have been pointing out over at National Review, there’s been an especial amount of confusion in the press lately regarding the Pope’s comments to Mahmoud Abbas, which basically amount, in both the grammatical and metaphorical senses, to a subjunctive command to be a man of peace.
Insofar as there has been a common thread lately in the Pope’s actions and gestures, it seems to be that he and the Church would like to see a free and dignified Palestine, but also one that is at peace and that tolerates the rights of its citizens, including Christians, to live and worship as they wish.
That’s not so terribly controversial. But then again, that’s not so fun to report, either.