WASHINGTON — Inviting the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to the Vatican and praying alongside them for peace in the Holy Land does not insert Pope Francis into the political process but is another example of his efforts to help all people, said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.

"He didn't go out on a limb with this. He got up on the Cross, and I think that's where he needs to be," the retired archbishop of Washington told Catholic News Service when asked whether the pope's move could be seen as political.

"This pope is absolutely transparent," he said. "He is who he seems to be ... and is so obviously open and anxious to deal with all the needs of the people with great joy and great enthusiasm."

Cardinal McCarrick made the comments in a brief interview June 6, two days before the pope's "invocation for peace" in the Holy Land with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican.

The cardinal spoke to CNS before he and other speakers gathered at a briefing room on Capitol Hill for a discussion titled: "Can Pope Francis change the conversation between Israelis and Palestinians?"

Led by Sean Callahan, chief operating officer at CRS, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency, the panelists discussed the possible impact of Pope Francis' invitation to Peres and Abbas and the first-of-its-kind event at the Vatican.

Although doubtful the meeting would be enough to foster peace between the two countries, Ronit Avni, founder and director of Just Vision, said Pope Francis has succeeded in his mission by "sparking curiosity among Catholic populations around the world."

"This is a conflict where, like it or not, the international community will need to play a significant role," said Avni. "In any situation where you have an asymmetrical power dynamic, the group that has more structural power will not cede that power without some pressure.

"From Just Vision's perspective, we want that pressure to be nonviolent, we want it to be with a rights-respecting lens ... and that pressure has to come from people who have moral concern for the two societies," she said.

Just Vision is an organization that supports Palestinian and Israeli efforts to end the Israeli occupation and conflict without arms.

Discussing the role of the United States in such efforts, Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, an ethics professor at Georgetown University, said the initiative to bring peace to the region cannot be led by American politicians.

"The lesson of the last several rounds of peace attempts is the American government cannot be an honest broker in the Middle East," said Father Christiansen. "I think the best thing that American Christians can do is to support Christians in the Holy Land through groups like CRS ... and human rights groups that are working both on the ground and in various states to improve the situation there. Even with the best intentions, our political ties are just too entangled to accomplish the work of peacemaking."

Although all of the panelists agreed that inequality and repression could not be combated unless every Israeli and Palestinian constituency was represented within discussion, none of the panelists could predict exactly how or when the effects of the meeting would manifest themselves.

"The pope is full of surprises," said Father Christiansen. "I've found the graces of prayer sometimes come afterwards, maybe weeks or even months later, but often with arresting power, so we will just have to wait and see."