14 June 2019
Claudio Di Segni, a tenor and director of the choir at Rome's main synagogue, performs with the choir on 13 June 2019, during a concert at the synagogue marking the 25th anniversary of formal diplomatic ties between Israel and the Holy See. (photo: CNS/Robert Duncan)
Plaintive pleas and rousing, rhythmic recognitions of God’s goodness filled the air at Rome’s main synagogue as Israeli and Vatican officials celebrated 25 years of formal diplomatic relations.
“A concert of sacred Jewish music in a highly symbolic place like the major synagogue of Rome highlights our special bond that is founded in our common root: the Bible,” Oren David, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, told Catholic News Service.
“Songs from the Psalms show that we have a common heritage, which is reflected in the biblical values that we share, and we want to bring attention to the special and unique bond between us,” said David, who hosted the concert on 13 June.
Nathan Lam, the cantor of Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, was one of four cantors to perform at the concert. He said the singers, who are ordained for service and can preside at weddings and funerals, purposefully chose songs with texts common to Jews and Christians for the celebration.
Jews and Christians will interpret those texts differently, he said, “but the fact that we share them is a very important commonality.”
“I hope this leads to more and more dialogue, to more and more celebrations of relationships that are productive and good,” Lam said.
Celebrating 25 years of formal Vatican-Israeli diplomatic relations is not only about the relationship of two states. The ties were built on decades of Catholic-Jewish dialogue, which first focused on healing a relationship wounded by anti-Jewish church teaching and then moved on to common religious and moral teachings.
Celebrating what has been accomplished does not mean ignoring the sticky issues that remain on a diplomatic, political and religious level: for example, diplomats on both sides continue to try to negotiate an agreement governing church property ownership and taxation issues; the Vatican continues to call for international guarantees of Jerusalem’s status as a city sacred to Jews, Christian and Muslims; and Jewish religious leaders continue to press Catholic theologians involved in dialogue to discuss the religious significance of the land of Israel.
The Israeli ambassador and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, mentioned the three issues in their remarks before the concert. But they both also insisted there was much more to celebrate than to worry about.
“In our relations, political and religious issues are intertwined, this is why they are so special,” the ambassador told CNS.
For Catholics, the “special” relationship includes recognizing that Jesus was a Jew, the apostles were Jews and that Christianity not only recognized the Hebrew Scriptures -- the Old Testament -- as part of God’s revelation, but Catholics adopted and adapted Jewish liturgy, including the chanting and singing of the Psalms.
“Our liturgy stems from the liturgy of the Jewish people,” said the Rev. Norbert Hofmann, secretary of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. “For example, reading texts, interpreting texts, giving sermons on texts -- that already can be found in Judaism, in Jewish liturgy and practice.”
“Jews and Christians are praying with the same texts,” he said, “but with a different interpretation” because Christians would read those texts in the light of their faith in Jesus.
Lam, the “chazzan” or cantor, prayed that those differing understandings would not overshadow the basic shared faith in one God, the creator of all, and -- to a lesser degree -- in the power of music to carry prayer and to touch hearts.
Like Christian sacred music, Jewish sacred music includes many styles influenced by the cultures the Jews were living in when the music was written. The cantor and choir of the Rome synagogue, who also performed 13 June, had a unique sound and style reflecting what the program described as the Jewish “Roman rite.”
The songs are sacred not because of their style, Lam said, but because the texts are the word of God, and the music upholds, reflects and emphasizes its content.
For Jews and for Christians, the Psalms have a special connection to liturgical music and not just because
they are written in a poetic form that makes it natural to chant or sing them.
Lam, who has been the cantor at Stephen Wise Temple for 43 years, said the Psalms seem to be growing in importance for both Jews and Christians “because the Psalms are a great source of comfort, knowledge, joy and wisdom.”
The central piece of the anniversary concert fittingly was Psalm 122 with its prayer for the peace of Jerusalem, peace in the world and, finally a personal, “I pray for your good.”
You can watch a related video from CNS below:
12 April 2019
Tags: Vatican Jewish-Catholic relations
Pope Francis kisses the feet of South Sudan President Salva Kiir on 11 April 2019, at the conclusion of a two-day retreat at the Vatican for African nation’s political leaders. The pope begged the leaders to give peace a chance. At right is Vice President Riek Machar.
(photo: CNS/Vatican Media via Reuters)
At the end of a highly unusual spiritual retreat for the political leaders of warring factions, Pope Francis knelt at the feet of the leaders of South Sudan, begging them to give peace a chance and to be worthy “fathers of the nation.”
“As a brother, I ask you to remain in peace. I ask you from my heart, let’s go forward. There will be many problems, but do not be afraid,” he told the leaders, speaking without a text at the end of the meeting.
“You have begun a process, may it end well,” he said. “There will be disagreements among you, but may they take place ‘in the office’ while, in front of your people, you hold hands; in this way, you will be transformed from simple citizens to fathers of the nation.”
“The purpose of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will,” he said in his formal remarks on 11 April, closing the two-day retreat in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.
The retreat participants included South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and four of the nation’s five designated vice presidents: Riek Machar, James Wani Igga, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior. Under the terms of a peace agreement signed in September, the vice presidents were to take office together on 12 May, sharing power and ending the armed conflict between clans and among communities.
The retreat was the idea of Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, who attended the final part of the gathering. He and Pope Francis have been supporting the peace efforts of the South Sudan Council of Churches and, the pope said again on 11 April, they hope to visit South Sudan together when there is peace.
Pope Francis told the politicians and members of the Council of Churches that “peace” was the first word Jesus said to his disciples after the resurrection.
“Peace is the first gift that the Lord brought us, and the first commitment that leaders of nations must pursue,” he told them. “Peace is the fundamental condition for ensuring the rights of each individual and the integral development of an entire people.”
When South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of war, the people were filled with hope, the pope said. Too many of them have died or been forced from their homes or face starvation because of five years of civil war.
After “so much death, hunger, hurt and tears,” the pope said, the retreat participants “have clearly heard the cry of the poor and the needy; it rises up to heaven, to the very heart of God our father, who desires to grant them justice and peace.”
“Peace is possible,” the pope told the leaders. They must tap into “a spirit that is noble, upright, strong and courageous to build peace through dialogue, negotiation and forgiveness.”
As leaders of a people, he said, those who govern will have to stand before God and give an account of their actions, especially what they did or didn’t do for the poor and the marginalized.
Pope Francis asked the leaders to linger a moment in the mood of the retreat and sense that “we stand before the gaze of the Lord, who is able to see the truth in us and to lead us fully to that truth.”
The leaders, he said, should recognize how God loves them, wants to forgive them and calls them to build a country at peace.
Jesus, he said, calls all believers to repentance. “We may well have made mistakes, some rather small, others much greater,” but Jesus always is ready to forgive those who repent and return to serving their people.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he said, “Jesus is also gazing, here and now, upon each one of us. He looks at us with love, he asks something, he forgives something, and he gives us a mission. He has put great trust in us by choosing us to be his co-workers in the creation of a more just world.”
Pope Francis expressed his hope that “hostilities will finally cease -- please, may they cease -- that the armistice will be respected, and that political and ethnic divisions will be surmounted.”
Closing his prepared remarks with a prayer, he asked God “to touch with the power of the Spirit the depths of every human heart, so that enemies will be open to dialogue, adversaries will join hands and peoples will meet in harmony.”
“By your gift, Father, may the whole-hearted search for peace resolve disputes, may love conquer hatred and may revenge be disarmed by forgiveness, so that, relying solely on your mercy, we may find our way back to you,” he prayed.
11 March 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Africa Interfaith
A representative of the American Jewish Committee gives Pope Francis a certificate on 8 March 2019, certifying that a grapevine in Israel has been dedicated to him and promising that each year he will receive a bottle of wine produced with the vine's grapes. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
Engaging in any form of anti-Semitism is a direct contradiction with the Christian faith, Pope Francis said.
Meeting members of the American Jewish Committee on 8 March, the pope shared his “great concern” over “the spread, in many places, of a climate of wickedness and fury, in which an excessive and depraved hatred is taking root,” including “the outbreak of anti-Semitic attacks in various countries.”
“It is necessary to be vigilant about such a phenomenon,” he said, because, as the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews said, “History teaches us where even the slightest perceptible forms of anti-Semitism can lead: the human tragedy of the Shoah, in which two-thirds of European Jewry were annihilated.”
Cultivating good relations, showing respect for others and being vigilant against any sign of hatred and prejudice is “a call from God,” the pope said.
Christians and Jews, he said, must transmit to their children “the foundations of love and respect. And we must look at the world with the eyes of a mother, with the gaze of peace.”
Meeting the group on International Women’s Day, Pope Francis spoke of “the irreplaceable contribution of women in building a world that can be a home for all,” a home where believers strive to fulfill God’s command in Deuteronomy to “love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.”
“Women make the world beautiful, they protect it and keep it alive,” the pope said. “They bring the grace of renewal, the embrace of inclusion and the courage to give of oneself.”
“If we take to heart the importance of the future, if we dream of a future peace, we need to give space to women,” Pope Francis said.
Interreligious dialogue, he said, is an important part of efforts to fight hatred and anti-Semitism. The dialogue aims to promote “a commitment to peace, mutual respect, the protection of life, religious freedom and the care of creation.”
Pope Francis urged Jews and Christians to work together, countering the spread of “a depersonalizing secularism” by “making divine love more visible for humanity” and engaging in common works of charity “to counter the growth of indifference.”
“In a world where the distance between the many who have little and the few who have much grows every day,” he said, “we are called to take care of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters: the poor, the weak, the sick, children and the elderly.”
Pope Francis also encouraged Catholics and Jews to involve young people in interreligious dialogue as “an effective means of countering violence and opening new paths of peace with all.”
John Shapiro, president of the American Jewish Committee, thanked Pope Francis for deciding to open to scholars in March 2020 material in the Vatican Secret Archives covering World War II and the papacy of Pope Pius XII.
“We look forward especially to the involvement of the leading Holocaust memorial institutes in Israel and the U.S. to objectively evaluate as best as possible the historical record of that most terrible of times, to acknowledge both the failures as well as valiant efforts during the period of the Shoah,” Shapiro said, according to a statement from the AJC.
Members of the group also presented Pope Francis with a certificate testifying that a grapevine dedicated to him would be the first in a “vineyard of the nations,” a vineyard in Israel where each vine is sponsored by a Christian outside of the country. In addition, they told the pope, each year he would receive a bottle of wine from his vine.
15 February 2019
Tags: Pope Jewish-Catholic relations anti-Semitism
Even if Christians struggle to recognize him with his “torn clothes (and) dirty feet,” Jesus is present in the migrants and refugees who seek safety and a dignified life in a new land, Pope Francis said.
If Jesus’ words, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,” are true, the pope said, then “we must begin to thank those who give us the opportunity for this encounter, namely, the ‘others’ who knock on our doors, giving us the possibility to overcome our fears in order to encounter, welcome and assist Jesus in person.”
Pope Francis spoke about overcoming fear and welcoming others during a Mass he celebrated 15 February at a church-run retreat and conference center in Sacrofano, about 15 miles north of Rome.
The Mass was part of a conference titled, “Welcoming Communities: Free of Fear,” which was sponsored by the Italian bishops’ office for migration, Caritas Italy and Jesuit Refugee Service’s Centro Astalli. The 500 participants included representatives of parishes, religious orders and Catholic-run agencies assisting migrants and refugees, as well as individual families who host newcomers.
At a time when Italy’s government is trying to severely restrict immigration, Caritas Italy said the meeting was designed to encourage those working with migrants and refugees and to counteract fear of migration by highlighting how individuals and the entire country benefit from welcoming them.
At a Mass on Friday, Pope Francis preached about the necessity of welcoming migrants and refugees. (video: CNS/YouTube)
The prayers of the faithful, most of which were read by migrants, included asking God to help pastors educate all Catholics to welcome migrants and refugees and to help government leaders promote tolerance and peace. Ending, as is traditional, with a prayer for the dead, the petitions made special mention of people who were killed for their faith.
In his homily, Pope Francis noted how the ancient Israelites had to overcome their fear of crossing the Red Sea and trust God in order to make it to the promised land. And, when the disciples were on the lake in a storm, Jesus told them to not be afraid and assured them he was there with them.
“The Lord speaks to us today and asks us to allow him to free us of our fear,” the pope said.
“Fear is the origin of slavery,” just as it was for the ancient Israelites, he said, “and it is also the origin of every dictatorship because, on the fear of the people, the violence of the dictator grows.”
Of course, the pope said, people naturally are afraid of what they don’t understand and of strangers who speak another language and have another culture. The Christian response is not to play on those fears, but to educate people and help them turn strangers into friends.
“We are called to overcome fear and open ourselves to encounter,” he said. “The encounter with the ‘other,’ then, is also an encounter with Christ. He himself told us this. It is he who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted.”
Pope Francis asked Catholics who have had “the joy” of assisting migrants and refugees to “proclaim it from the rooftops, openly, to help others do the same, preparing themselves to encounter Christ and his salvation.”
11 February 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Migrants
A man sits on his chair in a small village in the Toubkal region near Imlil, Morocco on 12 January 2019. Pope Francis plans to visit Morocco next month. (photo: CNS/Youssef Boudlal, Reuters)
Pope Francis’ trip to Morocco on 30-31 March will include a visit to a school training an international group of Muslim prayer leaders and preachers, including women.
He also will visit to a Caritas center assisting migrants, many of whom ended up in the North African country with hopes of eventually making it to Europe.
Returning to Rome from the United Arab Emirates on 5 February, Pope Francis told journalists he had hoped to go to Marrakech, Morocco, in December for the signing of the U.N. Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, but protocol dictated that he make a full visit to the country and there was not time in December.
The trip in March will include a full slate of formal events, including a meeting with King Mohammed VI and a visit to the mausoleum of King Mohammed V, who negotiated the country’s independence from France and ruled until his death in 1961.
The visit to Morocco, where more than 99 percent of the population is Muslim, will give Pope Francis an opportunity to continue the reflections on Christian-Muslim relations he began in Abu Dhabi in February. As he did in the United Arab Emirates, he is expected to highlight 2019 as the 800th anniversary of the encounter of St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil of Egypt.
When the Vatican first announced the trip in November, it said the pope would visit both Rabat, the capital, and Casablanca. But the Vatican said on 9 February it had accepted “the proposal by Moroccan authorities to limit the trip to the city of Rabat to facilitate the visit of the Holy Father.”
View the full itinerary of the trip here.
18 January 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Muslim
In this image from 2015, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, Bishop Camillo Ballin, apostolic vicar of Northern Arabia, Sheik Nahyan and Bishop Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia, cut a ribbon during the inauguration of St. Paul’s Church in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates next month.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia)
When Pope Francis visits Abu Dhabi 3-5 February, he will visit a land where interreligious tolerance is mandated by law; while Catholics in the United Arab Emirates count their blessings for that, the pope is expected to nudge for something more.
Tolerance is praiseworthy, and Catholics in the Emirates do not take it for granted. But for Pope Francis, the next step — and often a big one — is mutual knowledge, respect and cooperation.
As the pope said in Bangladesh in late 2017, “respect and shaping a culture of encounter, dialogue and cooperation in the service of our human family” requires “more than mere tolerance. It challenges us to reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding, and so to build a unity that sees diversity not as a threat, but as a potential source of enrichment and growth.”
The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia cares for the almost 1 million Catholics living in the Emirates, Oman and Yemen. The faithful belong to 16 parishes -- with Mass offered in a dozen languages in churches, chapels and meeting rooms, sometimes simultaneously.
In the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates on the southeast edge of the Arabian Peninsula, the ruling families have donated land for Catholic and other Christian churches. But no bells call the faithful to prayer and no crosses can be visible from the street.
Islam is the state religion and the faith of almost all of its citizens. But citizens account for less than 20 percent of the Emirates’ population; most of the rest are foreign workers from almost every country in the world and include significant numbers of Catholics from India and the Philippines.
“We have experienced great benevolence from the leaders of the Emirates to be able to worship in the churches that have been built on land generously donated by them,” said Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the apostolic vicariate. “These gestures and the continuous efforts by the state to create an environment of tolerance and harmony in the community are very encouraging.”
The Catholic parishes run busy Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults programs, but only for foreigners. “Most of our RCIA candidates come from other Christian denominations or did not have a life in faith at all. Some are Hindu,” said Marcus Khoury, who assists with the program at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi.
Bringing adults into the Catholic faith is “a delicate matter where we have to be careful at all times,” Khoury said. “We are not allowed to proselytize among Muslims, and therefore have to make sure that our RCIA candidates were not originally Muslim.”
For Khoury, who worked for a year in neighboring Saudi Arabia, where Christianity can be practiced only in private homes, “Abu Dhabi is fortunately very open and relaxed when it comes to practicing other religions.”
Khoury works as in-house legal counsel specializing in construction and arbitration law. Many Muslims, he said, know just by his name that he is Christian, or at least from a Christian family. But “my Muslim co-workers rarely talk about religion with me. To a certain extent it still is a touchy subject, as one may risk being misunderstood as proselytizing and trying to convert Muslims when talking to them about Christianity.”
At work and at school, Bishop Hinder said, Catholics interact with their Muslim sisters and brothers and people of other faiths, so friendships are formed and cultures shared.
But the visit of the pope, which will include “the first ever public Mass in the country,” will bring even more attention to the Catholic community, the bishop said, so Catholics want “to put our best foot forward to shine during this time.”
Feras Hamza is a Dubai-based professor and Islamic historian who has participated in high-level Christian-Muslim dialogue programs. He told Catholic News Service, “The lived reality of day-to-day interaction, co-existence and social exchange -- economic, cultural or otherwise -- is itself a form of continuous dialogue” and one that best describes “the state of Christian-Muslim relations in the UAE.”
“Christians and Muslims in the UAE do not need to discuss their scriptures to demonstrate ‘dialogue,’“ he said. “‘Religion’ cannot be singled out from what anthropologists would call ‘culture,’“ and people’s “values may be anchored in and shaped by religious traditions, but they ultimately have life and meaning only in communal exchange and in the everyday.”
A sign of how seriously the UAE takes tolerance, he said, is the appointment of a Cabinet “minister of state for tolerance” and the proclamation by Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed, the UAE president, of 2019 as the “Year of Tolerance.”
In addition to focusing on dialogue with his Muslim hosts, Pope Francis will devote time to the international community of Catholics living in the Emirates. Those Catholics include lawyers like Khoury and financiers, doctors, nurses, teachers and tens of thousands of maids and construction workers.
For many of the domestic and blue-collar workers, a job in the Emirates is a great opportunity to work and send money home to their families. But policing their working conditions has not been easy; the government continues to enact protections, such as making it illegal for an employer to confiscate the worker’s passport, regulating the fees employers can withhold from paychecks, mandating a maximum 12-hour work day for domestics and guaranteeing one day off each week.
The Catholic parishes are one of the few places in the Emirates where foreign workers of all countries and categories come together.
Khoury, the lawyer, said his French-language community at St. Joseph’s includes people from France, Belgium, Lebanon, Iraq, Cameroon and Egypt. It lets him “break through the otherwise typical expat bubble in which expatriates-foreigners largely stick to their own nationality and social class.”
Many of the migrants are unmarried. Bishop Hinder said that through their involvement in parish communities “they end up becoming each other’s support system for spiritual growth and in personal relations.”
And while the government has made strides in protecting workers, “there are sometimes unfortunate situations where migrant workers find themselves in dire straits if companies close down or salaries are not paid,” the bishop said. “All parishes have set up community-service initiatives to help in this type of case,” with volunteers providing legal assistance, parishioners collecting food and clothing and sponsors coming forward to pay for a stranded worker’s plane ticket back home.
As guests in a foreign land, Bishop Hinder said, Catholics know their actions speak louder than words, and “living in peace and harmony becomes a natural priority.”
“We do not take anything for granted,” the bishop said, “but we are thankful to the Lord for his grace in being able to live and share our faith in the communities we live in.”
16 January 2019
Tags: Muslim Arabs
In this image from 2014, Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires and Pope Francis embrace after visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The pope has written the introduction to an Italian book of Christian and Jewish commentaries on the first five books of the Bible. Rabbi Skorka wrote one of the commentaries. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
A few decades of respectful Catholic-Jewish dialogue pale in comparison to “19 centuries of Christian anti-Judaism,” Pope Francis said, so Catholics must continue to ask forgiveness and forge new bonds of respect and friendship with the Jewish community.
“We must work with greater intensity to ask pardon and repair the damage,” the pope said in an introduction to a new Italian book of Christian and Jewish commentaries on passages from the first five books of the Bible, which are known collectively as the Torah or Pentateuch.
Pope Francis said the volume of commentaries, “The Bible of Friendship,” is an important tool for helping Catholics recognize the Jewish roots of their faith and for promoting concrete Catholic-Jewish cooperation in helping others.
“It is of vital importance for Christians to discover and foster knowledge of the Jewish tradition in order to understand themselves more authentically,” the pope said, and studying the Bible is an essential part of that effort.
Reading the Hebrew Scriptures together, he said, helps people discover the richness of the word of God. “The common objective will be to witness together to the love of the Father throughout the world.”
“The values, traditions and great ideas that characterize Judaism and Christianity must be placed at the service of humanity without ever forgetting the sacredness and authenticity of friendship,” he said.
“For Jews as for Christians there is no doubt that love of God and love for one’s neighbor summarize all the commandments,” he said. “Therefore, Jews and Christians must feel like brothers and sisters, united by the same God and by a rich, common spiritual patrimony on which to base and continue to build the future.”
17 December 2018
Tags: Pope Francis Jewish-Catholic relations
Pope Francis holds a baby on the eve of his 82nd birthday during a 16 December audience with children and families from the Santa Marta Dispensary, a Vatican charity that offers special help to mothers and children in need, at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Giuseppe Lami, EPA)
If the Holy Family lived in Rome and the baby Jesus had a cold or flu, Mary and Joseph certainly would bring him to the Vatican pediatric clinic for help, Pope Francis said.
The Vatican’s St. Martha Dispensary was founded in 1922 and, staffed by volunteers, it provides medical care and basic necessities to any child in need; most of the clients are immigrants.
Dozens of children, their parents and the clinic volunteers anticipated Pope Francis’ 82nd birthday, singing for him and giving him a large cake on 16 December. His birthday was the next day.
“I wish you all a merry Christmas, a good holy Christmas, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you do. Really,” the pope said. “And, I also hope that no one gets indigestion from a cake that big. Thank you!”
In brief comments to the women religious who run the clinic and to the doctors and others who volunteer there, Pope Francis said, “Working with children isn’t easy, but they teach us much.”
“They taught me something: to understand the reality of life, you must lower yourself, like you bend down to kiss a child. They teach us this,” he said. “The proud and haughty cannot understand life because they are not capable of lowering themselves.”
Everyone who works at the clinic gives children something, the pope said. “But they give us this proclamation, this teaching: bow down, be humble and you will learn to understand life and understand people.”
7 November 2018
Tags: Pope Francis
U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, arrive for a press conference at the Vatican on 7 November. The Knights are preparing for a major meeting in Rome.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The 30,000 members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem fund about 80 percent of the annual budget of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, ensuring that Catholic parishes and seminaries, schools and hospitals in Israel, Palestine and Jordan continue to function, said U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien.
The cardinal, grand master of the Vatican-based order, said the knights and dames of the order come from 40 countries and pledge their prayers, their financial support and personal visits to the Holy Land to support the local Catholic communities there and to encourage ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation.
Every five years, leaders of the order from around the world gather for their general assembly, called a “consulta.” The meeting was scheduled for 13-16 November in Rome and was expected to include an audience with Pope Francis.
Meeting with reporters on 7 November, Cardinal O’Brien said the knights and dames “do not become involved in local government or political questions” in the Holy Land but offer support to the local Catholic Church there in cooperation with the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
Cardinal O’Brien said the order provides about $15 million each year in grants to Catholic projects in the Holy Land. Most are run by the Latin patriarchate, but the Maronite and Melkite Catholic churches also receive assistance.
The knights and dames of the Holy Sepulchre have given priority to education and formation programs, said Leonardo Visconti di Modrone, governor general of the order. By supporting 35 nursery schools and 41 elementary and high schools in Israel and Palestine, he said, the order’s members hope “to improve their quality and, through them, to make a fundamental contribution to the pacification of the region.”
About 57 percent of the 19,000 students in the schools are Christian, and most of the others are Muslim, he said. But all of them learn “our values of dialogue, tolerance and mutual respect,” which should help “overcome that violent confrontation that for years has martyred peaceful coexistence among people of different ethnic and religious groups.”
Cardinal O’Brien said each member of the equestrian order pledges to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at least once in his or her lifetime, but most go regularly. The pilgrimage is built around prayer and visits to the holy sites, but always includes visits to schools, clinics, parishes and other projects funded by the knights and dames.
The funds are disbursed as grants, the cardinal said, and members of the grant-making committee visit the Holy Land three times a year to monitor the projects.
The order’s headquarters near the Vatican occupies a small part of the 15th-century Palazzo della Rovere; most of the order’s building was rented out to a company that ran it as the Hotel Columbus. The order’s contract with the hotel company expired years ago and, after a court-ordered eviction was issued in 2016, the hotel closed in May.
Visconti said the Italian government is insisting that restoration work be carried out on the hotel’s 15th- and 16th-century frescoes, and plumbing and other work is underway. But, he said, the knights and dames hope to have a new company renting the building and running it as a hotel soon, because the rental income covers the order’s administrative costs, allowing all donations to go directly to the Holy Land.
18 October 2018
Tags: Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, leave a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican 18 October. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Firm in their faith in Jesus and working together, Orthodox and Catholic young people can resist forces trying to remove all traces of faith from society and even could reverse that trend, Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk told the Synod of Bishops.
Speaking to the synod on 18 October as one of the “fraternal delegates” or ecumenical observers at the gathering, Metropolitan Hilarion said that, since the fall of communism, young people have been returning to the Orthodox Church in Russia.
And, he said, “the upbringing of youth in the Christian spirit is a project that we, the Orthodox, are willing to implement together with the Catholics.”
Since 2015, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Vatican have cooperated to promote exchange programs for their seminarians and young clergy. The Orthodox visit the Vatican and the Catholics spend time in Russia, which “helps us to overcome misconceptions, enriches us spiritually and lays the foundation for cooperation between our churches.”
At a time when young people are bombarded by conflicting information about what they should want and what they should strive for, Christian leaders must help young people learn the art of discernment, he said.
“The contemporary mission of the church,” Metropolitan Hilarion said, is “to teach the younger generation to distinguish good from evil, truth from falsehood, the genuine and truly valuable from that which is instant, transient and superficial.”
Young people need the moral values the church teaches, and they need prayer, liturgy and the sacraments, he said. But “the most important and necessary thing that we can offer all generations is Christ crucified and risen.”
“A cultural, psychological and spiritual abyss separates the contemporary young people from Christ, from his spiritual and moral teaching,” Metropolitan Hilarion said. “Our task is to help young people to overcome this abyss, to feel that they need Christ and that he can transform their life and fill it with content, meaning and inspiration.”
Tags: Ecumenism Russian Orthodox