Two days before Pope Francis’ prayer gathering at the Vatican, representatives of Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leadership in Southern California united for “Prayers for Peace in the Holy Land,” a private prayer service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. 

The June 6 service was held following an invitation to the Jewish and Muslim communities by Father Alexei Smith, ecumenical and interreligious officer for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, “to pray with me for peace in that land sacred to all three of our faiths. We do so acknowledging the courage and creativity of Pope Francis in his efforts to bring about peace, and we join our efforts here with his at the Vatican.”

Prior to the private service in the Chapel of St. Vibiana (below the main Cathedral level), Father Smith joined with Rabbi Mark Diamond, regional director of the American Jewish Committee, and Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, chair of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, to light a candle for peace.

In brief remarks, Father Smith recalled that when St. John Paul II in 2000 visited the Cenacle, said to be the site of King David's tomb and of the Last Supperin Jerusalem, he presented a large brass olive tree sculpture with three equal branches. The sculpture, Father Smith suggested, “represents Abraham as the trunk, and three beautiful faiths” stemming from it — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The tree itself, he said, represents peace.

Among those present for the service was Camboni Missionary Father Jose Alberto Pimentel, pastor of Holy Cross, South Los Angeles, who studied at the Pontifical Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies, and has a licentiate in interreligious studies.

On hand to serve as a translator for Spanish-speaking media, Father Pimentel told The Tidings that Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land — what he described as “a trip about friendship” — and last weekend’s prayer meeting at the Vatican offered the world the hope rooted in Pentecost.

“The Holy Spirit uses these moments as a way to show that things which seem impossible can be accomplished,” he noted. “Things may look like they can't be done, but people of good will are open to peace, and these meetings raise the hopes of people in the area that peace can be achieved.”

The power of prayer is key, he added. “Prayer brings hope, nourishes hope, and so political and religious leaders can pray together, even if they are of different faiths,” Father Pimentel said.

“And it is good that they come together. But it is important for all people to connect. We need to say to one another, ‘We believe what we believe and we understand you believe what you believe, but we can still come together in prayer because we have the one God at the root of all of our faith.’”