The 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.
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
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.