Monday, January 13, 2014

Christians to come together at the Holy Sepulchre on 25 May

Francis with Bartholomew IThe ecumenical meeting in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre has been set for 25 May and will in all likelihood take place before the empty tomb. 

“This is a really important event, especially bearing in mind where it is taking place; a place in which divisions between Christians are in some way encrypted. It is also important because all Christian denominations present in the Holy Land will be there,” said Valeria Martano, who is part of a delegation of the Community of Sant’Egidio currently in Jerusalem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the embrace between Paul VI and Athenagoras.

Pope Francis and Bartholomew, who are guests of the Orthodox metropolitan in Jerusalem, could enter the Basilica together and embrace one another before meeting the representatives of other rites, for example, Catholics, Orthodox, Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians and Anglicans.

“The climate set by the meeting which took place between Paul VI and the Patriarch of Constantinople half a century ago was different,” Valeria Martano told Vatican Insider. Martano is the author of the documented biography on Athenagoras, titled Athenagoras the Patriarch (1886-1972). A Christian caught between the crisis of cohabitation and ecumenical utopia. We often focus on how much work is yet to be done and lose sight of the things that have been achieved. I think Francis’ meeting with Bartholomew I will be an epiphany of communion and a new opportunity for a wider and more inclusive embrace…”

Martano added that Paul VI’s historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1964, “made the Orthodox world realise how willing Catholics were to move the focus back to the Church of Jerusalem. With the visit to the Holy Land, the first visit he has decided on himself - last July’s World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro had already been planned by Benedict XVI - Francis is showing once again that Rome’s focus if moving back to the very roots of the Gospel, starting from the empty sepulchre.
As Francis confirmed last Sunday, the three legs of his journey will be Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. A few more details have been revealed about the trip which is still being planned. 

Despite the initial controversy over the brief duration of the pilgrimage (which is only going to last 3 days, as Paul VI’s did back in 1964) this seems to have been dispelled, partly because everyone has now understood the spirit of the visit. The Pope will arrive in Amman, where he is expected to dine with some Syrian refugees. 

On Sunday morning he will leave Jordan by helicopter and head for the territories under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority, to celebrate a mass in Bethlehem. “The Sant’Egidio delegation, myself included, have been in contact with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Jewish world has expressed its appreciation regarding the Pope’s decision to come on a Sunday and not on the Shabbhat,” Martano said.
Francis is expected to leave Bethlehem by helicopter and fly to Tel Aviv airport. From here he will make his way to Jerusalem for the much awaited ecumenical meeting on Sunday afternoon. 

This meeting will be the highlight of the whole trip and is the only event the Pope specifically referred to when he announced his visit. Efforts are being made to organise a meeting with Jewish religious leaders in the old Rabbinate building near the Western Wall.

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