At this point, it is certain that journeys on the footsteps of holiness in the Holy Land, Eretz Israel, Eretz Canaan\ארץ ישראל ארץ כנען is something most important and relevant for the contemporary bishops of Rome, heads of the Roman Catholic Church.
When reading the different news that are published or the breaking news that can be sent throughout the world and to the neighboring countries of Israel, it is still a reality that the event is hardly pending and catching in Jordan right now that the Pope left. Lebanon does inform the readers about the development of the trip, especially in the French-speaking news. The English-speaking press of the neighboring countries are rather vague. Egypt is far more concerned by the problem of pork slaughtering and the barriers that the Coptic Church and faithful have to face at the present. In Germany, the recount of the visit is viewed with special insights, also in Italy. In fact, the Vatican press Information Center exerts a real and rather strict control of the news. The French try to develop a rather neutral, directed toward a more favorable attitude to Judaism rather than an attitude to Israel, based on a journalistic news system that relies upon "La Croix" and specific Catholic media (KTOtv.com and "Radio Notre-Dame" linked, for the event to some former Lyons clerical staff). They also endeavor to launch a new online information service that is in fact connected to the unique initial root.
But I also get in contact with Croatian, Polish, German and Dutch and English-speaking "tourists/pilgrims" and journalists who would look at the event from a general very papal or conflictual problems of relationships in the Holy Land. Or political issues that it is impossible to avoid in such an environment. BBC, Reuters and other press agencies continue to inform on the line of scoops and actions, powers and difference.
On the other hand, "Haaretz" and the "Jerusalem Post" do inform about the declarations and speeches of the pope. They also comment and get a lot of feedback of different natures about the way the Israeli society accepts or is not interested in the event. Curiously, there are the two classical reactions: these days, many ultra-Orthodox youths would scream at me and spit and shout that I am a "damned priest". Others would laugh, mock or not utter a word, except that they show the man in cassock (not only me) saying "zeh komer\זה כומר = this is a priest = a idol worshiper".
In other contexts, people would very gently and nicely ask if the pope would visit all the Christians that live in the Holy Land. But it is not the main question at the moment and it seems that the forthcoming Eurovision song contest would much more be en vogue than the trip of the head of the Catholic Church. The Israeli media in other languages, especially the Russian press hardly recount about the trip - this is also the case for many countries where the pilgrimage is not considered as a "major" event.
Thus, it is interesting to reflect upon the purpose of a journey that aims to consolidate or strengthen the three monotheistic religions. It may also lead to some smoothing of real attitudes between the concerned religions. Why should the pope travel to the Holy Land and underline the plight we have to get closer together? It is the usual task of the bishop of Rome - though discussed at large - to be "the servant of charity". To serve the spiritual and human goal of love in this world into the resurrection.
The Custos of the Holy Land, Franciscan Fra Pierbattista Pizzaballa, notes with insights that, in Israel and the region, there have always been numerous interfaith groups and associations or studying entities. But the contacts are getting rarer. In the course of the past nine years, as noticed by the Greek Catholic priest educated in France and widely known archimandrite Fr. Emil Shufani, the groups dropped by four.
It would be difficult for Pres. Shimon Peres not to be joyously positive or quietly realistic in his way. It is his character and mood. Indeed, the visit of the first and certainly last German Nazi-era survivor Pope Benedictus XVI represents a huge path ahead of ages of distrust, true murders and opaque relationships. Still, it re;ains a "scoop". Shimon Peres speaks of history and he is right. In terms of history we may have contrasted feelings.
In tradition theology, the Pope of Rome, bishop of the city, "presides to the charity of the Church" things needs to be clarified in terms of Christian theology. Pope Beendictus XVI is the first Western bishop of Rome who "dropped" his title of "Pariarch of the West". This means a sort of "unknown zone" spiritual activity of his that is not determined with precision compared to the other Eastern Orthodox Churches. This lacks a lot of clarity and subsequently is hardly trustworthy in a frank dialogue.
When Pope Paul VI and Patriarchs Athenagoras and Benediktos (Jerusalem) met at the mount of Olives in 1964, only very few people could envision that Israel would move ahead in such a way as to control the whole of the most important holy sites of Christianity. The main issue was to get to some honorable and credible conclusion of the Second Vatican Council (1965). It could not have been reached without the visit of the two heads of the Church in a cheerful town of Jerusalem that was divided by that time.
"Lumen Gentium" was the conclusive document adopted by the Coucil, defining the Church as "larger than the Roman Catholic Church" and then recognizing the fulfillment of the Body of the Resurrected.
"Nostra Aetate" is indeed a major document - not only for the Jews! With regards to them, it is comparable to a rather short document!The document underwent several drafts and corrections and was clear-cut shortened. It i like a "drop", let's be realistic! Drops are vital in our region! Drops can add to drops and irrigate some well-cultivated contacts. At times, there may be storms or dryness. We are not in a period of ecumenical dialogue. This is also shown with the papal visit to the Holy Land right now.
As said in the Gospel, "we can run till the ends of the world to get and try to save one soul and neglect those who are just in front of us" (Matthew 23:15). It is much more easy to use neutral terms and discuss about the possibility of reviving the relationships between three monotheistic religions born in the region than the correct the profound wounds and scars that affect the bodies of each part of the Church, just the Church. who wants peace? Shlomo-Solomon, the King of Israel, had asked for wisdom; he also stated that we do no see what is close to us but try to to decrypt and explain what is out of sight or far too much away from us. This is what is going on right now. This is why the journey of pilgrim Benedictus XVI is great: he makes very significant statements, in a very significant way and with much steadfastness. Just as he did during his other trips to Constantinople and other countries (France). He continues to point out the main theological fundamentals discussed over the past 70 years and more, basically in the Western Church.
The problem is that the Church of Jerusalem is ONE. This does not appear as evident as it did in hope in 1964. In the present, it is definitely impossible to try to reconnect or not to disconnect with the Jews and the Muslims who do have total different prospects, goals and visions about their spiritual development in the region; AND we cannot simultaneously try to reunify the ONE CHURCH of Jerusalem.
In some bizarre historical circumstances, the Moscow Russian Orthodox Patriarchate did it when it reached an agreement to gather the Russian Moscow Church and the Church Abroad in the Holy Land and in other countries. In this view, late Patriarch Aleksei and new Patriarch Kirill of Moscow did achieve new and very risky moves that promoted the union of the Eastern Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition. They did focus on the unity of their Church or church splits in a way that sadly does not seem to succeed in the Catholic realm.
This is definitely not the case with the visit of Pope Benedictus XVI in Jerusalem. Compared with the last trip of Pope John Paul II only nine years ago, the whole of the journey is totally under control of the Israeli authorities and under strict review of the papal attitude toward Judaism and Israelity. In a country that is known for being very free and where any believer can attend any religious service, the litugical encounters and other events are counted, both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories. In Jordan, people seemed to come and attend the meetings more freely. Still, at the present, Benedictus' travel is a bit on the side now in the neighboring countries.
There is a new Latin patriarch of Jerusalem who is a Jordanian citizen. In Jordan, the major actor of the Liturgical Vespers was Patriarch Gregorios III of the Greek Melkites (Catholics). He had been serving for 15 years in Israel and Palestine. I already mentioned that his attitude during the Vespers showed the gap that exists between the local Greek Catholic (and other Eastern Catholic and Oriental Churches in Jordan) and the Latin Church in a context where the Greek Orthodox believers are indeed a majority. Contrary to what is reported, the Pope is indeed a man of the West, deeply rooted in the Latin tradition; dealing with that tradition at first and a bit "aside" of the reality of the living Eastern traditions.
I maintain my total goal of always do my best to show the ONE JERUSALEM Church. This is at the core of my personal call, as a human being, as a Jew who is in the Church and as a priest within the Mother Church of Jerusalem. I explained this in many blogs and articles. I explained this at length and most often this "width, breadth, length and depth" of the Kingdom in my family family, married to a gentile Christian woman of faith met on the Galilee Sea and fianceed in Jerusalem, these personal facts and very harsh realities in their day-to-day accomplishment - has always been a call to total unity. This take more sense in the development of a Hebrew part of the Church because it does not only deal wit ha language, but a whole educational and spiritual inheritage that is linked to Jesus of Nazareth and thus call us to gather together and not to split in accordance to all the splits that happened outside of Jerusalem and throughout ages of cruel and insane hatred system. In Jerusalem, the Church must be ONE. If we run as in a shuk and market our flocks, we make business. And we should not have the nerve, in the very heavy hardships of our survives in the region, to pretend that we do not make business with souls or are afraid to do so because of rising pressures.
Christian in the Holy Land should be under one ecclesiastical entity and others should sustain a true understanding of the theological laws of faith.
In showing that reality, we have firstly to admit the "niches" and the fractures" that do exist. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic clergy could celebrate by shifts and/or together in the Middle-East. This was also the case for the Assyrian Chaldean clergy and the Ancient Oriental Churches. Today, whatever good words shared, the differences do exist; they are persistent and affect the dialogue inside of the One Body of Christ.
The humane and spiritual attitudes of the the representatives of the Jewish and Israeli State do not help resolving such a situation that worsens in spite of good intentions of blurred images of the context.
During his journey, Pope Benedictus will hardly incite or struggle for the unity of the Church as it developed around the Meditteranean Sea, to begin with Jerusalem. All the speeches and discourse dealing with the relationships with Judaism and Islam mask the difficult facts of faily confronting with New Israel that shows to be a "Verus (humanus) Israel". The same is applicable to Islamic States that scarcely accept the presence of the Christians, even if there is a real move in the Emirate countries, mostly because of the important number of expatriate workers from Christian countries.
There is nothing to be compared with 1964 and the search for unity between East and West Churches. In Israel, the Greek Melkites and the Eastern rite traditions are more likely to be close to the Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions. This has not changed since the day of Cardinal Eugene Tisserant. Locals are imperiled and foreigner twist back and forth in view to find a reason how to stay in the region.
This explains the rather strange request of Jonah Metzger, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, who asked the Pope to consider the resolution of the hidden Jews converted during the Shoah. He dared add to abstain to exercise any act of conversion toward the Jews. Good gracious! This is a dynamic in-born tendency of the Christian Church(es) and then he should firstly ask to remove any prayer for the Jews on Good Friday!! It would be so easy to prove that all the Churches are just driven to this proselytizing activity. The new thing is that they now face a strong Jewish proselytism and revival of positive Jewish and Israeli identity that would never step down as previously in the history. The requirement proposed by the Chief Rabbi is readily a breach into the whole Christian structure and could never be uttered before.
Tomorrow morning, just a few hours before flying back to Rome, the Pope will pay a visit to Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem. He heads the Eastern Rum Orthodox and historically represents the Mother of all the Churches of God. The situation has drastically changed since late Patriarch Benediktos of Jerusalem welcomed Paul VI and Athenagoras in 1964. We were at a time that was a sort of preliminary opening to some dawn of the Church. To begin with, Patriarch Benediktos was veyr positive towards the Catholics. He was als overy realistic and always repeated that locally speaking, the Rum Orthodox Church of Jerusalem should not be really afraid of the Jews or the Muslims. The real authentic and constant threat was showing from Rome. This was a cruel heritage of history: from the sack of Constantinople to the Crusaders' plundering of Jerusalem, time has come to show real forgiveness inside of the Eastern and Western parts of the Body of Christ as proclaimed over the two thousand years.
There is a special spirit here, in Jerusalem. It cannot be wiped out or removed so easily. It is too close to Judaism and to Islam, to Oriental traditions and the newness of Israel. In this land, nobody has the right to oblige people to deny their identity. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Jesuits were asked by Russian children to be educated as Byzantine believers; they had heard the Jesuits could serve in the Oriental rite. The Jesuits did it and many children returned freely to Orthodoxy. Not obliging people to become like chimpanzees and chameleons. We have the same task to achieve here, but it concerns the unity of Christianity without imbalance between the two "Lungs of the Church".
At the moment, dawn is a bit darkening. Still, we are in the time of a dawn that shall deploy over the forthcoming centuries. Chilly times. The streets of the Old City will be closed and the public will not have totally free access to the Mother Church, the Holy Sepulcher (for a prayer...) and a visit at the Armenians. The stores and the shops will be closed. This shows the real meaning of the journey, maybe a journey through illusions for our days.
We use to repeat like parrots here: "Everything will be okay, good". I do believe it will be so because ultimately all things only belong to God. I m still convinced now that the phrase of Saint Luke about "the time of the pagans" is a developing reality : "Jerusalem shall be trampled down by the gentiles until their time is complete" (Luke 21:24). It is showing deeper and deeper. How strange that the Pope leaves the country on the eve of the Samaritan woman Sunday; Jesus said: "salvation comes from the Jews" John 8:58).
In terms of conclusion for this note:
I had written the note at different moments of the day. Then, towards the end of the afternoon - it was 6 pm. in Jerusalem at Jaffa Gate, I had a lemon tea and walked back to my home at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Wow, the pavement was brand clean, whiter than any usual or possible white for these old stones! Fresh watered throughout the day. I stopped, as usual on Thursdays evening, at the Greek Catholic Church of the Annunciation. The priest sang beautifully in Arabic and I left after the Gospel. There were very few people in the street. In front of our St. Dimitrios school there is a plaque in Latin that reminds that Pope Paul VI had visited the house in 1964. "Welcome" greetings are written on the Holy See white and yellow colors in Arabic and "Herzlich Willkommen" in German! There is a portrait of Benedictus XVI under the plaque. He will certainly pass and this will be mentioned soon.
The shops were closed. There was a great group of Israeli "local tourists", guided by an Israeli tour guide who explained the contemporary history of this part of the Christian quarter. A normal Israeli group composed of of young and rather mature people. No local Christian people. The hair-dresser shop was half closing while the grocery owner was arguing with some special Israeli Policemen in charge of checking that all shops are closed. They also check the locks. And suddenly a second great group came up the street toward New or Jaffa Gate. A group of a lot of young religious Jewish girls! They were speaking loudly and singing all the way joyously.
The scenery was really incredible! When I came the first time in the Old City, in this part that includes the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the compounds were full of nuns, monks of all denominations that could still greet each other. When Pope Paul II visited the Holy Land, we still had this open atmosphere. Times were changing, but softly. I was convinced the minute I entered the place 12 years ago for my ministry that "the time of the gentiles is over". I have no specific or personal wish. God knows how to dispose of our destinies. We are also responsible for our actions personally and as societies, groups, denominations.
The media can write whatever they want. There are facts they better know. There are things I have the task to store for memory because we are also witnesses. Curiously, tonight, the Christian Quarter resembles some ghetto/shtetl and people are removed from the steps of Benedictus, the one who is supposed to be blessed (Benedictus) by coming in the name of the Lord.
Un point de non-retour. A non-return point.
Strange! Some time ago, I was exceptionally coming back lately around 11:30 pm. home. There was not a soul at Jaffa Gate! Total silence, absence. On the way to the Patriarchate, I saw two Israeli soldiers. We knew each other because they were often stationed on the square. They did not understand why I was there: "You get home immediately, you know, quick, quick, hurry! Putin (the Russian President) is about to pass here in a few minutes.