The Holy Land pilgrimage by Pope Francis contained plenty of symbolic gestures, photo ops and sound bites crafted to slip into broadcasts, ink and Twitter.
There was his direct flight into the West Bank, the first papal "State of Palestine" reference and the silent prayer with his forehead against the concrete security wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, near graffiti pleading, "Pope, we need some 1 to speak about justice." He also prayed at a memorial for suicide-bombing victims and put a wreath on the tomb of Zionism pioneer Theodor Herzi.
The backdrop for the Manger Square Mass included an image of the infant Christ swaddled in a black-and-white keffiyeh, the headdress made famous by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. And, of course, the world press stressed the pope's invitation to presidents Shimon Peres of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to visit the Vatican for prayers, and surely private talks, about peace.
After days of statecraft, Francis arrived -- drawing little attention from major American media -- at the event that the Vatican insisted was the key to the trip. This was when Pope Francis met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I for an historic evening prayer rite in the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a setting long symbolic of bitter divisions in world Christianity.
The symbolic leader of the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians, the successor to the Apostle Andrew, had earlier invited Francis, the successor to the Apostle Peter, to join him in Jerusalem to mark the 50th anniversary of the breakthrough meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. Their embrace ended 900-plus years of mutual excommunication in the wake of the Great Schism of 1054.
"Clearly we cannot deny the divisions which continue to exist among us, the disciples of Jesus: this sacred place makes us even more painfully aware of how tragic they are," said the pope, at the site of the tomb the ancient churches believe held the body of Jesus. "We know that much distance still needs to be traveled before we attain that fullness of communion which can also be expressed by sharing the same Eucharistic table, something we ardently desire. ...
"We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so too every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed."