27 May 2014
A large crowd is seen as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 25 May. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land ended up being a truly historic visit. On Sunday, shortly before 7 in the morning, I left my home in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and started making my way to Bethlehem for what I knew would be the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I made it to the presidential complex in Bethlehem to witness the official welcome of the pope to the State of Palestine — the first-ever head of state to arrive in Palestine without first entering Israeli-controlled territory. Around 9:30, the pope arrived in a modest VW Jetta and was formally received by the Palestinian leadership. A few minutes later, I was one of eight Palestinian Christians scheduled to meet His Holiness and to speak about the Christian presence in the Holy Land, about our challenges, aspirations and our many contributions to society through our schools, health care programs and social service initiatives. His Holiness was very warm and wanted to learn more. But due to the limited time, we handed him a letter on behalf of the Palestinian Christian community, asking him to do what he can to help to improve our situation and lead to our freedom and independence.
After attending the press conference of Pope Francis and President Mahmoud Abbas, we were rushed to Manger Square through Bethlehem’s narrow back roads so as to make it in time before Mass. Little did we know that as we were being escorted, Pope Francis went through Bethlehem’s main roads and spontaneously stopped at the separation wall to pray.
A few minutes later he arrived at Manger Square in his open car, cheerfully waving at the crowds before stopping in front of the beautiful altar that was set up specifically for the occasion. The backdrop featured a large mural depicting the Christ Child in the manger, surrounded by several saints and the previous popes who have come to Bethlehem: Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Manger Square itself was filled with more than 10,000 people from all over the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza and the Galilee. The liturgy of the “Christmas Mass,” which emphasizes the needs of children, was memorable and the atmosphere was uplifting. As the Mass was ending, the midday Muslim prayers started from the mosque at Manger Square, reminding us of the diversity of our Holy Land. The sounds coming from the choir and the call of prayer from the mosque blended together in a display of the interfaith spirit we all wish to see strengthened.
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Manger Square in Bethlehem, West Bank, 25 May.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Once the papal Mass ended, we headed to a special luncheon. Joseph Hazboun, who works in our Jerusalem office, and his family were among the five families to share a meal with Pope Francis and personally tell him about the challenges facing Palestinian Christians. As for me, I had lunch with President Abbas along with his top leadership and several other guests, including the Maronite patriarch of Antioch, Cardinal Peter Bishara; Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim; Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius; the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III; and the emeritus Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michel Sabbah.
Once lunch was over, I rushed back to Jerusalem to make it to the next event, the ecumenical meeting at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre between Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew. We had to congregate at 4:30 pm to make our way through the stringent Israeli security measures. Once inside the church, we were seated around Christ’s tomb in two main sections reserved for Catholics and Orthodox.
One could immediately feel the historic gravity of the event with so many cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, priests and many members of religious congregations. The speeches were uplifting and articulate; the call to Christian unity was sincere. A half century has passed since the historic gathering on the Mount of Olives between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964, and we have advanced tremendously when it comes to Christian unity. But we are still far from it. My hope is that this historic visit will be the inspiration for the local church leaders to work for this unity on the ground, day in and day out.
Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople embrace during an ecumenical celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on 25 May.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
As I was leaving the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I was stuck at the same checkpoint in the Old City along with our guest from Lebanon, Cardinal Patriarch Peter Bishara. We were permitted up the ancient steps that lead toward the Christian Quarter road. There again, security had blocked the quarter and we were directed through the long way back through the Christian Quarter up through the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate road to Jaffa Gate, where he was residing at the Maronite complex. We strolled together for and I had the opportunity to talk with him about the Christian Quarter, the Old City, the daily hardships of life under occupation, the travel restrictions and access to our churches during Holy Week, and the general situation of Palestinian Christians. He was a compassionate listener whose heart is with the weak and marginalized as well. He is facing much criticism for visiting Jerusalem while it is under occupation. I encouraged him during this walk and he encouraged me. We both promised to pray for each other.
This was a day I shall never forget. I will be proud to tell my grandchildren that I was there to witness it all!
27 May 2014
Pope Francis listens as CNEWA’s Joseph Hazboun (in the foreground) describes life as a Palestinian Christian during a luncheon in Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA)
Joseph Hazboun works in CNEWA’s Jerusalem office and was one of those invited to have lunch with Pope Francis during his visit to the Holy Land last weekend.
It was like a dream... I felt I was watching TV... the pope was sitting in front of me at the table surrounded by five families from the various areas representing the Holy Land’s indigenous Christian community as well as the hardships and difficulties we face under occupation.
I felt it was inappropriate to speak in his presence. But the extraordinary circumstances — and my wife’s elbow — brought me back to reality. Since I speak fluent Italian, I started by introducing the families present at the table to Pope Francis and gave the first opportunity to speak to a family from the village of Iqrit, which was destroyed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and its Catholic villagers were expelled when Iqrit became part of the state of Israel.
A family from the Cremisan Valley had their land confiscated for the construction of the Israeli Separation Wall. They spoke next. They were followed by a young lady from the Gaza Strip, who explained the hardships of living under siege and prohibited from visiting the holy sites until they are at least 35 years of age — and only once or twice per year if they are lucky.
This was followed by an intervention from the mother of Khaled Halabi, who has been detained in Israeli prisons for more than 10 years, representing hundreds of detained Palestinian youth.
A young person from Jerusalem explained how he was caught up in the system and denied residency in Jerusalem and has no ID at all, although both his parents have Jerusalem IDs. His Beatitude, Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, noted that this young person does not exist officially as he has no ID and no passport.
After everyone had an opportunity to speak, I spoke to His Holiness about the hardships of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Seeing how affected he was at hearing all these tragic stories, pain and human suffering, I apologized to His Holiness and explained to him that being present as a representative of the Christian community of Jerusalem, I was obliged to complete the chain of personal stories about the sufferings and hardships of the Christian community. He was very touched by what he heard and expressed his interest in knowing the whole story. I explained to him the threats Christian families in Jerusalem face because of the family reunification law imposed by the Israeli Authorities, which prevents families from living together in their hometown of Jerusalem.
He was so tender, so loving, so compassionate. My wife expressed to His Holiness how much we love him, how honored we all were to dine with him; he smiled tenderly. I seized the opportunity to tell the pope that I was practically one of his employees. I could sense he wasn’t sure he actually understood what I said. So I explained to him that I work for CNEWA/Pontifical Mission for Palestine, a mission established in 1949 by Pope Pius XII to care for Palestinian refugees following the Israeli-Arab war and how we continue our services today because — unfortunately — the problem of the refugees has not yet been resolved.
27 May 2014
Pope Francis embraces Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, Muslim leader from Argentina, after praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on 26 May. The pope's message left at the Wall contained the text of the Our Father and of the 122nd Psalm, traditionally prayed by Jewish pilgrims who travel to Jerusalem.(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Among the many memorable moments from the pope’s trip, a standout was the one shown above. CNS’s Cindy Wooden took note:
In a Holy Land pilgrimage filled with emotion, the embrace of Pope Francis, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud this morning was powerful.
Even at a distance of more than 1,400 miles, (thanks to the Vatican Television Center and Vatican Radio) viewers could read in that embrace a sense of “we are actually here; it really happened.”
The embrace, complete with tears, came after Pope Francis visited Jerusalem’s grand mufti and other Muslim leaders near the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque and then prayed at the Western Wall.
The two holy sites make up what is probably the most contested piece of real estate in the world because of its deep religious significance.
Muslims believe Muhammad was taken to the site in his famous “Night Journey” and from there transported to heaven and then back to Mecca.
The Esplanade of the Mosques sits above the sacred Jewish prayer space facing the Western Wall, which is all that remains of the wall that surrounded the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in the year 70.
An interreligious pilgrimage to the site isn’t a daily occurrence, but Pope Francis wanted to go with his friends.
Read more about that emotional embrace at CNS’s blog.
And you can check out more stories, pictures and video from the trip at our special page, Apostles of Unity in the Holy Land.
27 May 2014
A rose is thrown towards the popemobile as Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Manger Square in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 25 May. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis sparks ecumenical and interfaith hope in the Holy Land (Vatican Radio) As Pope Francis’ three-day journey to the Holy Land — with stops in Jordan, Palestine and Israel — comes to an end. Philippa Hitchen brings us an overall picture of this visit in which she focuses on ecumenical and interfaith hope…
Ukraine and pro-Russian forces fight air battle in Donetsk (Christian Science Monitor) Ukrainian government warplanes carried out airstrikes against pro-Russian rebels who seized Donetsk international airport on Monday as both sides mounted an aggressive show of force following the election of a new Ukrainian president…
Egypt declares national holiday to encourage voter turnout (The Guardian) Egypt has declared a national holiday, in an apparent effort to encourage a higher turnout in the second and final day of its ongoing presidential election. Ex-army chief Abdel Fatah al Sisi is expected to easily win Tuesday’s election but he and his supporters are seeking a respectable turnout to prove he has the country’s overwhelming support…
Indian Church calls on Modi aid the poor and marginalized (AsiaNews) “The church in India is hopeful that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will collaborate with the mission of the Catholic Church to promote and work for social and economic justice as well as individual liberty and fundamental rights,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India…
Syria: U.N. condemns attack on warehouse during aid distribution (U.N. News Center) The United Nations humanitarian chief today expressed outrage at a deliberate attack on a humanitarian warehouse in the Damascus province of Syria, which occurred as aid workers were preparing to distribute urgently needed supplies to hundreds of families in the besieged city…
Cave presumably containing tomb of Queen Tamar found (Pravoslavie) Following a landslide, road workers in Ingushetia have discovered an ancient cave that may contain the tomb of the Georgian Queen Tamar, reported Umalat Gadiev, deputy director of Krupnov Archaeological Center. Holy Queen Tamar of Georgia’s late 12th-century reign was considered a “golden age” of Georgian culture, and she is considered one of the most venerated rulers of Georgia…
23 May 2014
Tags: India Egypt Pope Francis Ukraine United Nations
In this image from last year, Pope Francis burns incense before the icon of Mary “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people) after praying the rosary during a service at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
In what has become a custom before beginning an important trip, Pope Francis stopped by the Basilica of St. Mary Major this morning to offer a private prayer before an icon of Mary. The pontiff leaves for his historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land Saturday.
CNS has details:
Pope Francis entrusted his upcoming apostolic journey to the Holy Land to Our Lady when he visited a Marian icon at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome this morning.
He brought roses and prayed in silence before the icon for about 15 minutes, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told us today.
The unannounced morning visit marks what has become a Pope Francis tradition: visiting the “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people) to pray for Mary’s protection and care before a major trip.
He did the same thing before heading to Brazil last year when he prayed that Mary protect and care for everyone attending World Youth Day and for all young people around the world.
He also visited the day after his election, at the start of his new journey as supreme pontiff.
The icon has special significance for the pope and he has visited it often on different occasions to pray. He has said that the Basilica of St. Mary Major was the first Marian shrine in the West where the image of the Mother of God — the “Theotokos” — was venerated.
According to tradition, this image of Mary embracing Jesus as a young boy was the work of the evangelist St. Luke, who painted it on a tabletop made by Jesus himself in St. Joseph’s carpentry shop. Many centuries later, Jesuit missionaries distributed reproductions of the image to promote Marian devotion around the world.
23 May 2014
The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem — traditionally considered to be built on the site of Jesus Christ’s birth — is getting its first restoration in centuries. Master craftsmen are replacing the basilica’s ancient wood with slightly less ancient wood from other buildings. (video: Washington Post)
Pope Francis to lunch with poor Christian families in Bethlehem (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis will have lunch with local Christian families after celebrating holy Mass at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity this Sunday. The pope will visit the town of Jesus’ birth on the second day of his May 24-26 journey to the Holy Land. In an interview published on the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s website, Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali says the pope wanted to share his lunchtime meal with poor families…
Pope to hear from Syria’s refugees in Jordan (Deccan Chronicle) Pope Francis will hear first-hand accounts of the horrors of Syria’s war when he meets refugees in Jordan Saturday as he begins a three-day visit to the Holy Land. The pope will meet Christians and Muslims forced to leave their homes and flee to the neighboring desert kingdom, now home to more than 600,000 refugees and the first stop on Francis’ trip ahead of Israel and the Palestinian territories…
Lebanese patriarch joins Pope Francis in Israel, stirring controversy (Christian Science Monitor) When Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter heads to Israel tomorrow to participate in a papal visit to the Holy Land, he will become the first patriarch of the Maronite Church to visit the Jewish state — a move that has stirred intense controversy. Lebanon technically is in a state of war with Israel and it is against the law for Lebanese citizens to visit its neighbor or even have contact with its citizens. Patriarch Bechara Peter, who is also a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, says he has a duty to accompany Pope Francis in the Holy Land and that his visit is pastoral and will emphasize the Arab character of Jerusalem…
Struggle for rights at Cenacle shows issues with Jerusalem’s holy sites (CNS) The attention drawn to the Cenacle by extremist Jewish groups has put a damper on the hopes for negotiations over the site, said Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, custos of the Holy Land. “After all this commotion we have to calm down a little and to start now clarifying [our position],” Father Pizzaballa told journalists before the opening of a 20 May conference. “The point is we have the right to pray without infringing upon the rights of others…”
Syria can reform, says Melkite patriarch (Church Times) The crisis in Syria is the result of “murderous mercenaries” who are intent on destroying a peaceful nation on the road to reform, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III said, speaking in London on Tuesday. The patriarch described the centuries-long peaceful co-existence of Christians and Muslims, including his own personal experience of growing up in Syria: his mother breastfed him together with a Muslim “milk-brother…”
22 May 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Holy Land Jerusalem Israeli-Palestinian conflict Bethlehem
The answer: right here.
CNEWA has just launched a new web page, “Apostles of Unity in the Holy Land,” with news, photos, videos and updated information about the trip of Pope Francis this weekend.
Visit this link for details.
The pope leaves for his visit to Jordan, Palestine and Israel this Saturday and returns to the Vatican on Monday. It’s a short trip, but one that promises to be both memorable and historic, as the itinerary makes clear.
Our new web page is designed to be a living resource. We’re going to continue updating the site as we get more information. So be sure to check back often!
22 May 2014
With their parents in pews, children take in the liturgy from the floor of the church.
(photo: Tugela Ridley)
In 2006, we explored how Orthodox Christianity spread through Africa, and uncovered some fascinating history:
Orthodox Christianity is not new to Africa. According to tradition, the Evangelist Mark arrived on the continent around A.D. 43, and founded the Church of Alexandria and, by extension, all Africa. But “all Africa,” for most of the church’s history, effectively ended at the Sahara. Orthodox missionaries sat out the 19th century’s “scramble for Africa,” when European Catholics and Protestants fanned out across the continent to save souls and build colonies. The story of how the Alexandrian Church came to have an affiliate in faraway Uganda, a country with no previous connection to the Orthodox world, is therefore not a tale of white men bearing the message of God to a dark continent. Rather, the Ugandan church traces its roots to two Africans who, rebelling against colonial rule, fled to a religion they felt was pure and politically uncompromised. This makes Uganda’s small community of 60,000 Orthodox Christians nearly unique within their home country. They found their faith on their own.
Read more about Orthodox Africa in the March 2006 issue of ONE.
22 May 2014
A Muslim family, currently headed by Adeeb Jawad Joudeh, has been entrusted with the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem for almost 1,000 years. (video: Al Jazeera)
The 1,000-year-old schism Pope Francis seeks to heal (NPR) Pope Francis travels this weekend to the Middle East, the cradle of the three monotheistic religions, and will meet with Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders. But the official purpose of the visit is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox and to try to restore Christian unity after nearly 1,000 years of estrangement. Meeting in Jerusalem in 1964, Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras set a milestone: They started the process of healing the schism between Eastern and Western Christianity of the year 1054…
Seeking balance on Middle East visit, pope pleases few (New York Times) Pope Francis plans to give a strong show of support for a sovereign Palestinian state when he makes his first visit to the Holy Land this weekend, becoming the first pontiff to travel directly into the occupied West Bank rather than passing through Israel. The pope’s decision to fly straight to Bethlehem from Jordan would be a symbolic lift to the Palestinians at any time. But its resonance is even greater given his tremendous popularity, his focus on the downtrodden, and his timing amid the recent collapse of peace talks and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s unity pact with the militant group Hamas. But in this region, any gesture can be viewed through different lenses. “We’re not very happy about it, but it’s a fact,” Oded Ben Hur, a former Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, said of the pope’s direct flight to Bethlehem from Amman, Jordan. “We wanted them to play it down, but we can understand the complaints…”
Legacy of Hamas-Fatah killings complicates Palestinian unity efforts (New York Times) The bloody six-day battle for control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 left 260 Fatah activists and 176 from Hamas dead. Following the signing of a 23 April pact, a committee is now charged with persuading their families to accept compensation — and raise the funds to pay it — rather than pursue the death penalty as outlined in Islamic law. This so-called social reconciliation is one of the complicated issues yet to be addressed, as President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority prepares to announce the promised new government as early as this week…
Ukraine crisis: Donetsk sees deadliest attack on troops (BBC) A dawn attack on a checkpoint in eastern Ukraine has left at least 14 soldiers dead, in the worst loss of life for government forces to date. Heavily armed militants attacked the checkpoint in the Volnovakha area, in one of four attacks reported overnight in eastern Ukraine…
U.N. official cites ‘worsening’ human rights situation in southern, eastern Ukraine (U.N. News Center) The southern and eastern regions of crisis-racked Ukraine are now awash in weapons and the scene of numerous cases of illegal detentions and abductions, a senior United Nations human rights official warned today, noting that he had discussed with the parties some rights-based and humanitarian de-escalation measures…
Solving the problem of avoidable blindness afflicting many Ethiopians (Fides) Trachoma is one of the most common visual disorders in Africa and, if not treated timely, leads to permanent blindness. Ethiopia is one of the African countries with the highest incidence of people with eye diseases. Out of a population of 75 million people, nearly 1 million Ethiopians are affected by blindness and 4 million are visually impaired…
During Syrian siege, siblings improvised survival (Los Angeles Times) Tales of survival are beginning to rise from Homs’ rubble in the aftermath of a deal that allowed about 2,000 remaining rebels to evacuate the Old City this month, and also opened the way for civilians to return. Longtime residents who fled have been streaming back, stunned by the scope of destruction and anguished by the damage to their homes, but relieved that they are no longer shut out…
21 May 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Ukraine Holy Land United Nations Christian Unity
A man holds a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis’ face as the pope leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 21 May. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
At his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about his upcoming trip to the Holy Land:
Asking prayers for his 24-26 May trip to the Holy Land, Pope Francis said his visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories would be “strictly religious.”
At the end of his weekly general audience 21 May, Pope Francis told an estimated 50,000 people in St. Peter’s Square that he was about to make the trip.
The first reason for going, he said, “is to meet my brother, Bartholomew,” the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. The meeting launched a new era of ecumenical cooperation and dialogue.
“Peter and Andrew will meet once again, and this is very beautiful,” the pope said. Pope Francis is considered the successor of the apostle Peter and Patriarch Bartholomew the successor of his brother, the apostle Andrew.
The pope said the second reason for his trip is “to pray for peace in that land that suffers so much.”
He asked the people in the square to pray for the success of the trip.