On my trip to Lebanon I was privileged to hear the Ambassador from the Vatican–who my excellent book on the American Foreign Service calls the “nuncio of the Holy See”–speak to a group of high school students from schools run by the Al-Mukasad foundation.
The Pope was encouraging people to live in peace; nowhere that I have been is the evidence what not keeping the peace entails more evident than in Beirut. The underlying tension in the assembly was that the Pope’s statement, which the mostly trilingual students had read in both Arabic and English, was critical of Muslims for 1) threatening Christians, 2) not being Christians. I do not believe this was the intention, but any time a representative of one faith asks adherents of another to behave in a certain way, conversations can get tense.
The Ambassador addressed these tensions with a metaphor. He asked if the audience has little brothers or sisters, who like to take, take, take. They see something in the house, and they snatch it with their hands. He described that grabbing motion as the opposite of how we must approach God. We must place our hands palm up for God to fill.
He spoke of God as water, that we cannot grab water but must use open hands to accept it.
Later in the program, he was discussing how people of different backgrounds and of different faiths can serve God. He held out his hand again, and said to think of each person as a finger. If the fingers are apart from each other, the hand cannot hold water, cannot hold God. Only through unity can all people hold God within themselves.
Though the Vatican has been in the news lately for some very earthly issues it was a pleasant and grounding reminder of the spiritual center and commitment of those who serve it. It also reminded me that a diplomat can use a strong metaphor, a smiling face, and a willingness to truly listen to criticism to build bridges even in the tensest of rooms.
“These truths on Jordan’s banks were shown
By mighty word and wonder.
The Father’s voice from heaven came down,
Which we do well to ponder:
“This man is my beloved Son,
In whom my heart has pleasure.
Him you must hear, and Him alone,
And trust in fullest measure
The word that He has spoken.”–To Jordan’s River Came Our Lord