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Blessed, and much needed, are the peacemakers

The Holy Father spoke clearly and powerfully about peace breaching the walls of hate during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Pope Francis made it clear that his visit to the region was a religious one to reinforce the ecumenical dialogue of the historic meeting between the leaders of the Western and Eastern churches on the Mount of Olives in 1964. Nonetheless, the Holy Father did carefully balance his time during the pilgrimage between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The Pontiff reached out to Jewish Israelis by kissing the hands of elderly Holocaust survivors at a memorial and praying at the holiest Jewish site in Jerusalem—the Western Wall. He also added an unplanned stop at an Israeli monument to commemorate the civilian and military victims of terror attacks.

He prayed too in Bethlehem at a section of the segregating wall and compared the town, surrounded by barriers on three sides in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw under the Nazis.

Most importantly, on Sunday Pope Francis secured a promise from Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet with him at the Vatican next month to pray together and talk peace.

At a time when, in our own society, the relationship between Church and state is in flux ahead of the referendum on independence, it is poignant and important to note that religion and politics naturally overlap—in the Middle East, and in Scotland.

Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham, speaking recently to the Church of Scotland, gave no guarantee about religion’s place in any future constitution, although she did say that churches would continue to be encouraged to support the poor and the vulnerable. Ms Cunningham, and all Scottish politicians, need only look to the Middle East to see why religious leaders need to play a significant role—and to realise what can positively happen when the peacemakers such as Pope Francis moderate.

This week Bishop Joseph Toal, bishop-elect of Motherwell, gave the Time for Reflection at the Scottish Parliament ahead of his installation next month. Great progress has and is being made. To this day, however, Scotland has a problem with religion. Sectarianism is not going to just disappear at the ballot box on September 18, no matter the outcome.

Do not underestimate the need for peacemakers in Scotland today, and in Scotland’s future.

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