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Newsmax's Pentin: Pope's Holy Land Trip Ends With Sigh of Relief

By Sean Piccoli   |   Tuesday, 27 May 2014 05:04 PM

Pope Francis' historic Holy Land trip went "better than a lot of people expected" and ended with "relief" amid worries about everything from the new pontiff's health and demanding schedule to his handling of volatile Israeli-Palestinian relations, Newsmax Rome correspondent Ed Pentin said on Tuesday.

The Pope's headline-making visit to some of the world's holiest — and most politically fraught — places appeared to defuse the health issue if not banish it. "It was quite a relief that he got back safe and sound," Pentin, who accompanied the Pope, told "America's Forum" hosts John Bachman and Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV.

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Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

Francis also returned to Rome having secured an unexpected promise from the presidents of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, respectively, to join him at the Vatican to pray for peace, the Jerusalem Post reports.

The Pope told reporters on the plane home on Monday that he made the offer spontaneously after plans for a prayer summit in Jerusalem fell through. The invitation to pray to two adversarial heads of state underlined this pope's "love of prayer … and his belief that prayer really can move mountains," said Pentin.

When Francis declared last September 7 a day of prayer for peace in war-ravaged Syria, many considered it a "miracle" that, two days later, the Obama administration formally abandoned plans for the U.S. military to intervene in that country, said Pentin.

The Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, connected the two prayer initiatives in a recent interview, saying, "Prayer is capable of transforming hearts and then transforming history."

Two Middle East leaders praying together in Rome may strike many observers as a purely symbolic gesture. "But in terms of the images that it'll bring, it could be very powerful," said Pentin.

The Pope, also practicing a bit of statecraft, chose a more ceremonial Israeli official in Peres over the potentially divisive figure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who might have been perceived as "too political," said Pentin.

That diplomacy extended to the Pope's comparatively low-key treatment of another global problem: a rise in sectarian violence against Christians in some countries where they are a minority.

Francis spoke with reporters on the plane home about the severity of anti-Christian violence. "But during the visit itself he didn't mention it much because I don't think the bishops of the Holy Land particularly wanted it mentioned," said Pentin.

Francis, in being circumspect on a subject of concern to many Catholics, deferred to the judgement of regional Middle East church leaders, who Pentin said don't want Christians in their communities to be seen "as victims, or victimized by Islamists" and who "don't want to make [the problem] worse than it really is."

The Pope also returns home with the church's sex abuse scandal in need of his attention. In his informal, back-of-the-plane chat with reporters, he denounced sexual predators in the church's ranks, comparing their conduct to Satanic black mass rites, and said he will soon meet with abuse victims at the Vatican, CNN reports.

He also spoke about the future of priestly celibacy, saying "the door is always open" to examining the policy.

Pentin called the Pope's off-the-cuff comments about the abuse scandal "quite striking" and perhaps his strongest on the subject to date.

On a variety of issues, and in many settings, Francis often trusts his heart more than his head or the counsel of his advisers, said Pentin.

"It's very a Jesuitical thing," said Pentin, adding, "If he feels something is right, he'll just go ahead and do it regardless, really, of whatever advice he might be getting."

Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

Francis took a political risk, for example, by visiting, and touching, the Israeli-built security wall separating Israel from the Palestinian Territory — a gesture that could have been perceived as a rebuke of Israel. But a day later he prayed at a memorial for Israeli victims of terror,

"So he tried to do both things, tried to really help both sides in this … and feel empathy for both sides," said Pentin.

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