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Monday, May 26, 2014


Vatican City, 26 May 2014 (VIS) – Pope Francis and the president of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres, met this morning in the Presidential Palace. It was a very cordial private meeting during which the Holy Father commented that he would like to invent a new Beatitude, “one I can apply to myself today: 'Blessed is he who enters the house of a wise and good man”. They then left the building for the palace gardens to plant an olive tree together as a symbol of peace. This was followed by the public meeting, which took place on a specially installed stage, in the presence of around a hundred children of various religions.

“I am grateful to you, Mr President, for your kind and sage words of greeting and your warm welcome”, said the Holy Father. “I am happy to be able to meet you once again, this time in Jerusalem, the city which preserves the Holy Places dear to the three great religions which worship the God who called Abraham. The Holy Places are not monuments or museums for tourists, but places where communities of believers daily express their faith and culture, and carry out their works of charity. Precisely for this reason, their sacred character must be perpetually maintained and protection given not only to the legacy of the past but also to all those who visit these sites today and to those who will visit them in the future. May Jerusalem be truly the City of Peace! May her identity and her sacred character, her universal religious and cultural significance shine forth as a treasure for all mankind! How good it is when pilgrims and residents enjoy free access to the Holy Places and can freely take part in religious celebrations”.

“Mr President, you are known as a man of peace and a peacemaker”, he continued. “I appreciate and admire the approach you have taken. Peacemaking demands first and foremost respect for the dignity and freedom of every human person, which Jews, Christians and Muslims alike believe to be created by God and destined to eternal life. This shared conviction enables us resolutely to pursue peaceful solutions to every controversy and conflict. Here I renew my plea that all parties avoid initiatives and actions which contradict their stated determination to reach a true agreement and that they tirelessly work for peace, with decisiveness and tenacity”.

“There is likewise the need for a firm rejection of all that is opposed to the cultivation of peace and respectful relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims. We think, for example, of recourse to violence and terrorism, all forms of discrimination on the basis of race or religion, attempts to impose one’s own point of view at the expense of the rights of others, anti-Semitism in all its possible expressions, and signs of intolerance directed against individuals or places of worship, be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim”.

He recalled that “a variety of Christian communities live and work in the State of Israel. They are an integral part of society and participate fully in its civic, political and cultural affairs. Christians wish, as such, to contribute to the common good and the growth of peace; they wish to do so as full-fledged citizens who reject extremism in all its forms and are committed to fostering reconciliation and harmony. The presence of these communities and respect for their rights – as for the rights of all other religious groups and all minorities – are the guarantee of a healthy pluralism and proof of the vitality of democratic values as they are authentically embodied in the daily life and workings of the State”.

“Mr President”, he concluded, “you know that I pray for you and I know that you are praying for me, and I assure you of my continued prayers for the institutions and the citizens of the State of Israel. I likewise assure you of my constant prayer for the attainment of peace and all the inestimable goods which accompany it: security, tranquillity, prosperity and – the most beautiful of all – fraternity. Finally, my thoughts turn to all those afflicted by the continuing crises in the Middle East. I pray that their sufferings may soon be alleviated by an honourable resolution of hostilities. Peace be upon Israel and the entire Middle East! Shalom!”.

The Pontiff, following the meeting, continued his visit at the Pontifical Institute “Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre”, a centre of the Augustine Fathers of the Assumption of France, which welcomes pilgrims to the Holy Land and is considered as an ecumenical centre and territorial prelature, whose prelate is the Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine. Here he received in private audience the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.


Vatican City, 26 May 2014 (VIS) – Pope Francis today paid a courtesy visit to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel at the Heichal Shlomo, where he met with the two Chief Rabbis, Yona Metzger (Ashkenazi) and Shlomo Amar (Sephardi). Both also met with Benedict XVI during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2009.

After a brief discussion with the two Rabbis, Francis addressed those gathered at Heichal Shlomo, first demonstrating his joy for the warm welcome he has received and then commenting that, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he had counted many Jewish brethren among his friends.

“Together we organised rewarding occasions of encounter and dialogue; with them I also experienced significant moments of sharing on a spiritual level. In the first months of my pontificate, I was able to receive various organisations and representatives from the Jewish community worldwide. As was the case with my predecessors, there have been many requests for such meetings. Together with the numerous initiatives taking place on national and local levels, these testify to our mutual desire to know one another better, to listen to each other and to build bonds of true fraternity”.

He observed, “This journey of friendship represents one of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council, and particularly of the Declaration Nostra Aetate, which proved so influential and whose fiftieth anniversary we will celebrate next year. I am convinced that the progress which has been made in recent decades in the relationship between Jews and Catholics has been a genuine gift of God, one of those great works for which we are called to bless his holy name: 'Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his love endures forever; who alone has wrought marvellous works, for his love endures forever'”.

“A gift of God, yes, but one which would not have come about without the efforts of so many courageous and generous people, Jews and Christians alike. Here I would like to mention in particular the growing importance of the dialogue between the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. Inspired by the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Holy Land, this dialogue was inaugurated in 2002 and is already in its twelfth year. I would like to think that, in terms of the Jewish tradition of the Bar Mitzvah, it is just coming of age. I am confident that it will continue and have a bright future in years to come”.

“We need to do more than simply establish reciprocal and respectful relations on a human level”, he remarked. “We are also called, as Christians and Jews, to reflect deeply on the spiritual significance of the bond existing between us. It is a bond whose origins are from on high, one which transcends our own plans and projects, and one which remains intact despite all the difficulties which, sadly, have marked our relationship in the past. On the part of Catholics, there is a clear intention to reflect deeply on the significance of the Jewish roots of our own faith. I trust that, with your help, on the part of Jews too, there will be a continued and even growing interest in knowledge of Christianity, also in this holy land to which Christians trace their origins. This is especially to be hoped for among young people”.

“Mutual understanding of our spiritual heritage, appreciation for what we have in common and respect in matters on which we disagree: all these can help to guide us to a closer relationship, an intention which we put in God’s hands. Together, we can make a great contribution to the cause of peace; together, we can bear witness, in this rapidly changing world, to the perennial importance of the divine plan of creation; together, we can firmly oppose every form of anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination”, he concluded. “May the Lord help us to walk with confidence and strength in his ways. Shalom!”


Vatican City, 25 May 2014 (VIS) – At 8 a.m. the Pope transferred from Temple Mount to the Western Wall, or “Wailing Wall”. Fifteen metres high, this wall is a place of worship for the Jews for historical and religious reasons, and is linked to numerous traditions such as that of leaving prayers written on small pieces of paper between the blocks of the wall. Francis was received by the Chief Rabbi, who accompanied him to the wall. The Pope prayed in silence before the wall and, like his predecessors, left a piece of paper on which he had written the Lord's Prayer; he said, “I have written it in Spanish because it is the language I learned from my mother”.

He then proceeded to Monte Herzl where, in accordance with protocol on official visits and assisted by a Christian boy and girl, he left a wreath of flowers in the Israel national cemetery at the tomb of Theodore Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement. The Holy Father also strayed slightly from his itinerary to pray at a tomb for the victims of terrorism in Israel.

He then travelled by car to the Yad Vashem Memorial, a monument built in 1953 by the State of Israel to commemorate the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Along with the president and director of the Centre, the Pope walked around the perimeter of the Mausoleum before entering the Remembrance Hall, where he was awaited by the president, the prime minister, and the Rabbi president of the Council of Yad Vashem. Inside the Hall there is a monument with an eternal flame positioned in front of the crypt, which contains several urns with the ashes of victims of various concentration camps. The Pope lit the flame, placed a yellow and white floral wreath in the Mausoleum and, before his address, read from the Old Testament. He then spoke briefly about strength and the pain of man's inhuman evil and on the “structures of sin” that oppose the dignity of the human person, created in the image and semblance of God.

“'Adam, where are you?'. Where are you, o man? What have you come to? In this place, this memorial of the Shoah, we hear God’s question echo once more: 'Adam, where are you?' This question is charged with all the sorrow of a Father who has lost his child. The Father knew the risk of freedom; he knew that his children could be lost… yet perhaps not even the Father could imagine so great a fall, so profound an abyss! Here, before the boundless tragedy of the Holocaust, that cry – “Where are you?” – echoes like a faint voice in an unfathomable abyss…

“Adam, who are you? I no longer recognise you. Who are you, o man? What have you become? Of what horror have you been capable? What made you fall to such depths? Certainly it is not the dust of the earth from which you were made. The dust of the earth is something good, the work of my hands. Certainly it is not the breath of life which I breathed into you. That breath comes from me, and it is something good.

“No, this abyss is not merely the work of your own hands, your own heart… Who corrupted you? Who disfigured you? Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil? Who convinced you that you were god? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god.

“Today, in this place, we hear once more the voice of God: “Adam, where are you?”

“From the ground there rises up a soft cry: 'Have mercy on us, O Lord!' To you, O Lord our God, belongs righteousness; but to us confusion of face and shame.

“A great evil has befallen us, such as never happened under the heavens. Now, Lord, hear our prayer, hear our plea, save us in your mercy. Save us from this horror.

“Almighty Lord, a soul in anguish cries out to you. Hear, Lord, and have mercy! We have sinned against you. You reign for ever. Remember us in your mercy. Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done, to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, of having despised and destroyed our own flesh which you formed from the earth, to which you gave life with your own breath of life. Never again, Lord, never again!

“'Adam, where are you?' Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing. Remember us in your mercy”.

The Holy Father concluded his visit by speaking with some Holocaust survivors and signed the Yad Vashem Book of Honour, where he wrote: “With shame for what man, created in the image and likeness of God, was able to do. With shame that man become the patron of evil; with the shame for what man, believing himself to be god, sacrificed his brothers to himself. Never again! Never again!"

He bid farewell to the chorus and the authorities who had greeted him upon arrival, and left by car for the Heichal Shlomo Centre.


Vatican City, 26 May 2014 (VIS) – Early this morning the Holy Father visited the Esplanade of the Mosques, or Temple Mount. An artificial esplanade, trapezoid in shape, it occupies a sixth of the surface area of the Old City. This area is significant for the three monotheistic religions, and is thrice holy: for Jews, it is the place where Abraham would have sacrificed Isaac, as well as the site of the Temple of Solomon; for Muslims, it is the third destination for pilgrims after Mecca and Medina; and for Christians, it is the place of Christ's prophecy of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. In the area there are two of most important Muslim shrines, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

The Pope's car entered by the al-Asbat gate and arrived at the entrance of the Dome of the Rock, where he was received by the Great Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Husayn, supreme judicial-religious authority of Jerusalem and the Arab Muslim people in Palestine, and the director-general of the council of the “Waqf” (Islamic religious assets). After a brief visit he was accompanied to the Al-Kubbah Al-Nahawiyya building, where he was awaited by the high representatives of the Islamic community.

“Following in the footsteps of my predecessors, and in particular the historic visit of Pope Paul VI fifty years ago, the first visit of a Pope to the Holy Land, I have greatly desired to come as a pilgrim to the places which witnessed the earthly presence of Jesus Christ”, said the Pope. But my pilgrimage would not be complete if it did not also include a meeting with the people and the communities who live in this Land. I am particularly happy, therefore, to be with you, dear Muslim faithful, brothers. Francis recalled Abraham, “who lived as a pilgrim in these lands. Muslims, Christians and Jews see in him, albeit in different ways, a father in faith and a great example to be imitated. He became a pilgrim, leaving his own people and his own house in order to embark on that spiritual adventure to which God called him”.

The Pope went on to describe a pilgrim as, like Abraham, “a person who makes himself poor and sets forth on a journey. Pilgrims set out intently toward a great and longed-for destination, and they live in the hope of a promise received. This was how Abraham lived, and this should be our spiritual attitude. We can never think ourselves self-sufficient, masters of our own lives. We cannot be content with remaining withdrawn, secure in our convictions. Before the mystery of God we are all poor. We realise that we must constantly be prepared to go out from ourselves, docile to God’s call and open to the future that he wishes to create for us.

“In our earthly pilgrimage we are not alone. We cross paths with other faithful; at times we share with them a stretch of the road and at other times we experience with them a moment of rest which refreshes us. Such is our meeting today, for which I am particularly grateful. It is a welcome and shared moment of rest, made possible by your hospitality, on the pilgrimage of our life and that of our communities. We are experiencing a fraternal dialogue and exchange which are able to restore us and offer us new strength to confront the common challenges before us”.

“Nor can we forget that the pilgrimage of Abraham was also a summons to righteousness”, he continued. “God wanted him to witness his way of acting and to imitate him. We too wish to witness to God’s working in the world, and so, precisely in this meeting, we hear deep within us his summons to work for peace and justice, to implore these gifts in prayer and to learn from on high mercy, magnanimity and compassion”.

In conclusion, the Pope launched an appeal to “all communities who look to Abraham: may we respect and love one another as brothers and sisters! May we learn to understand the sufferings of others! May no one abuse the name of God through violence! May we work together for justice and peace! Salaam!”


Vatican City, 26 May 2014 (VIS) – After signing the Joint Declaration, the Holy Father and the Patriarch Bartholomew went to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre to take part in an ecumenical celebration. The Pope entered the Square by the Muristan arch, while the Patriarch entered by the gate of St. Helena. The celebration continued with the participation of the Ordinaries of the Holy Land, the Syrian archbishop, the Ethiopian archbishop, the Anglican bishop, the Lutheran bishop, and others. It was also attended by the general consuls of the five countries who guarantee the “Statu quo” of the Basilica (France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Greece), and the other consuls of the “Corpus separatum” of Jerusalem (Switzerland, the United States, Turkey, and the United Kingdom).

The Holy Sepulchre is, according to tradition, the place where the burial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ took place. After the repression of the Jewish revolt in 135, Jerusalem underwent a radical change: the Jews, Samaritans and Judeo-Christians were expelled and their return was prohibited. Hadrian, with the intention of eliminating every trace of the religion that had provoked two violent revolts, destroyed all places of worship, and the Holy Sepulchre suffered the same fate: it was razed to the ground, its cavities filled with earth, and a temple to the goddess Venus-Ishtar was built over it. During the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea, the bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius, invited the emperor Constantine to restore to light the Holy Sepulchre, which, beneath the rubble, was perfectly preserved. The Basilica of the Resurrection to be built there at the behest of the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, and went on to have a tumultuous history throughout the centuries. The stone that sealed the tomb was broken during the Persian invasion of 614 and it went on to suffer further damages until the decision of the Crusaders in 1099 to enclose all the monuments to the death and Resurrection of Christ in a single building, which remained almost unaltered until the end of the nineteenth century. Further damages resulted from the earthquake in 1927 and the first Arab-Israel war in 1948.

The Basilica continues to be regulated according to the “Statu quo”, and it is the property of three communities: the Latins (represented by the Friars Minor), the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian Orthodox; the Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and the Ethiopian Orthodox may officiate in the Basilica. At the entrance, in the atrium, there is the Stone of the Anointing, which according to tradition indicates the place where Jesus, deposed from the Cross, was anointed.

Pope Francis and the Patriarch Bartholomew were received by the three superiors of the communities of the “Statu Quo” (Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian Apostolic). The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III and the Custodian of Jerusalem, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M. Cap., and the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch, His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, venerated the Stone of the Anointing, followed by the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch.

After the proclamation of the Gospel and the words of Patriarch Bartholomew, the Holy Father gave an address in which he commented that the Basilica, “which all Christians regard with the deepest veneration”, his pilgrimage in the company of my "beloved brother in Christ, His Holiness Bartholomew, now reaches its culmination. We are making this pilgrimage in the footsteps of our venerable predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, who, with courage and docility to the Holy Spirit, made possible, fifty years ago, in this holy city of Jerusalem, an historic meeting between the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople. I cordially greet all of you who are present. In a special way I express my heartfelt gratitude to those who have made this moment possible: His Beatitude Theophilos, who has welcomed us so graciously, His Beatitude Nourhan Manougian and Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa”.

“It is an extraordinary grace to be gathered here in prayer”, he continued. “The empty tomb, that new garden grave where Joseph of Arimathea had reverently placed Jesus’ body, is the place from which the proclamation of the resurrection begins. … This proclamation, confirmed by the testimony of those to whom the risen Lord appeared, is the heart of the Christian message, faithfully passed down from generation to generation. … This is the basis of the faith which unites us, whereby together we profess that Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father and our sole Lord, 'suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead'. Each of us, everyone baptised in Christ, has spiritually risen from this tomb, for in baptism all of us truly became members of the body of the One who is the Firstborn of all creation; we were buried together with him, so as to be raised up with him and to walk in newness of life”.

“Let us receive the special grace of this moment. We pause in reverent silence before this empty tomb in order to rediscover the grandeur of our Christian vocation: we are men and women of resurrection, and not of death. From this place we learn how to live our lives, the trials of our Churches and of the whole world, in the light of Easter morning. … Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the basis of our hope! Let us not deprive the world of the joyful message of the resurrection! And let us not be deaf to the powerful summons to unity which rings out from this very place, in the words of the One who, risen from the dead, calls all of us 'my brothers'”.

“Clearly we cannot deny the divisions which continue to exist among us, the disciples of Jesus”, he observed. “This sacred place makes us even more painfully aware of how tragic they are. And yet, fifty years after the embrace of those two venerable Fathers, we realise with gratitude and renewed amazement how it was possible, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to take truly significant steps towards unity. We know that much distance still needs to be travelled before we attain that fullness of communion which can also be expressed by sharing the same Eucharistic table, something we ardently desire; yet our disagreements must not frighten us and paralyse our progress. We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so too every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed. This will be a grace of resurrection, of which we can have a foretaste even today. Every time we ask forgiveness of one another for our sins against other Christians and every time we find the courage to grant and receive such forgiveness, we experience the resurrection! Every time we put behind us our long-standing prejudices and find the courage to build new fraternal relationships, we confess that Christ is truly risen! Every time we reflect on the future of the Church in the light of her vocation to unity, the dawn of Easter breaks forth! Here I reiterate the hope already expressed by my predecessors for a continued dialogue with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome which, in fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be, in the present context, a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all”.

“Standing as pilgrims in these holy places, we also remember in our prayers the entire Middle East, so frequently and lamentably marked by acts of violence and conflict. Nor do we forget in our prayers the many other men and women who in various parts of our world are suffering from war, poverty and hunger, as well as the many Christians who are persecuted for their faith in the risen Lord. When Christians of different confessions suffer together, side by side, and assist one another with fraternal charity, there is born an ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism of blood, which proves particularly powerful not only for those situations in which it occurs, but also, by virtue of the communion of the saints, for the whole Church as well. Those who kill, who persecute Christians out of hatred, do not ask if they are Orthodox or Catholics: they are Christians. The blood of Christians is the same”.

Finally, addressing Bartholomew and all those present, he said, “Your Holiness, beloved brother, dear brothers and sisters all, let us put aside the misgivings we have inherited from the past and open our hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love, in order to hasten together towards that blessed day when our full communion will be restored. In making this journey, we feel ourselves sustained by the prayer which Jesus himself, in this city, on the eve of his passion, death and resurrection, offered to the Father for his disciples. It is a prayer which we ourselves in humility never tire to make our own: 'that they may all be one… that the world may believe'. And when disunity makes us pessimistic, distrusting, fearful, let us all commend ourselves to the protection of the Holy Mother of God. When there is spiritual turmoil in the Christian soul, it is only by seeking refuge under her mantle that we can find peace. May the Holy Mother of God help us on this journey”.

After this discourse, the Pope and the Patriarch embraced as a sign of peace and prayed the Lord's Prayer together in Italian, while the others present did so in their own languages. They then entered the Sepulchre to venerate the empty tomb, after which they ascended to the Basilica together to bless the people. They then continued to Mount Calvary, accompanied by the Greek and Armenian Patriarchs and the Custodian of the Holy Land, to venerate the place of Jesus' death and crucifixion.


Vatican City, 26 May 2014 (VIS) – After the welcome ceremony at Tel Aviv airport, the Pope transferred by helicopter to Jerusalem where, at the Apostolic Delegation, he met with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, who was accompanied by three high dignitaries. The meeting was also attended by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The Patriarch Bartholomew was elected in 1991 as the 270th Patriarch archbishop of Constantinople, the New Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch. He visited Benedict XVI in the Vatican in 2008 and participated in the celebration of the second millennium since the birth of St. Paul. On 19 March 20123 he attended the Mass of the beginning of Pope Francis' Petrine ministry; it was the first time since the Great Schism of 1054 that an Orthodox patriarch was present at the inauguration ceremony of a Catholic pope.

Following the meeting, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew signed the following Joint Declaration:

“1. Like our venerable predecessors Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras who met here in Jerusalem fifty years ago, we too, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, were determined to meet in the Holy Land 'where our common Redeemer, Christ our Lord, lived, taught, died, rose again, and ascended into Heaven, whence he sent the Holy Spirit on the infant Church' (Common communiqué of Pope Paul VI and
Patriarch Athenagoras, published after their meeting of 6 January 1964). Our meeting, another encounter of the Bishops of the Churches of Rome and Constantinople founded respectively by the two Brothers the Apostles Peter and Andrew, is a source of profound spiritual joy for us. It presents a providential occasion to reflect on the depth and the authenticity of our existing bonds, themselves the fruit of a grace-filled journey on which the Lord has guided us since that blessed day of fifty years ago.

2. Our fraternal encounter today is a new and necessary step on the journey towards the unity to which only the Holy Spirit can lead us, that of communion in legitimate diversity. We call to mind with profound gratitude the steps that the Lord has already enabled us to undertake. The embrace exchanged between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras here in Jerusalem, after many centuries of silence, paved the way for a momentous gesture, the removal from the memory and from the midst of the Church of the acts of mutual excommunication in 1054. This was followed by an exchange of visits between the respective Sees of Rome and Constantinople, by regular correspondence and, later, by the decision announced by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Dimitrios, of blessed memory both, to initiate a theological dialogue of truth between Catholics and Orthodox. Over these years, God, the source of all peace and love, has taught us to regard one another as members of the same Christian family, under one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and to love one another, so that we may confess our faith in the same Gospel of Christ, as received by the Apostles and expressed and transmitted to us by the Ecumenical Councils and the Church Fathers. While fully aware of not having reached the goal of full communion, today we confirm our commitment to continue walking together towards the unity for which Christ our Lord prayed to the Father so 'that all may be one'.

3. Well aware that unity is manifested in love of God and love of neighbour, we look forward in eager anticipation to the day in which we will finally partake together in the Eucharistic banquet. As Christians, we are called to prepare to receive this gift of Eucharistic communion, according to the teaching of Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, through the confession of the one faith, persevering prayer, inner conversion, renewal of life and fraternal dialogue. By achieving this hoped for goal, we will manifest to the world the love of God by which we are recognized as true disciples of Jesus Christ.

4. To this end, the theological dialogue undertaken by the Joint International Commission offers a fundamental contribution to the search for full communion among Catholics and Orthodox. Throughout the subsequent times of Popes John Paul II and Benedict the XVI, and Patriarch Dimitrios, the progress of our theological encounters has been substantial. Today we express heartfelt appreciation for the achievements to date, as well as for the current endeavours. This is no mere theoretical exercise, but an exercise in truth and love that demands an ever deeper knowledge of each other’s traditions in order to understand them and to learn from them. Thus we affirm once again that the theological dialogue does not seek a theological lowest common denominator on which to reach a compromise, but is rather about deepening one’s grasp of the whole truth that Christ has given to his Church, a truth that we never cease to understand better as we follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Hence, we affirm together that our faithfulness to the Lord demands fraternal encounter and true dialogue. Such a common pursuit does not lead us away from the truth; rather, through an exchange of gifts, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it will lead us into all truth.

5. Yet even as we make this journey towards full communion we already have the duty to offer common witness to the love of God for all people by working together in the service of humanity, especially in defending the dignity of the human person at every stage of life and the sanctity of family based on marriage, in promoting peace and the common good, and in responding to the suffering that continues to afflict our world. We acknowledge that hunger, poverty, illiteracy, the inequitable distribution of resources must constantly be addressed. It is our duty to seek to build together a just and humane society in which no-one feels excluded or marginalised.

6. It is our profound conviction that the future of the human family depends also on how we safeguard – both prudently and compassionately, with justice and fairness – the gift of creation that our Creator has entrusted to us. Therefore, we acknowledge in repentance the wrongful mistreatment of our planet, which is tantamount to sin before the eyes of God. We reaffirm our responsibility and obligation to foster a sense of humility and moderation so that all may feel the need to respect creation and to safeguard it with care. Together, we pledge our commitment to raising awareness about the stewardship of creation; we appeal to all people of goodwill to consider ways of living less wastefully and more frugally, manifesting less greed and more generosity for the protection of God’s world and the benefit of His people.

7. There is likewise an urgent need for effective and committed cooperation of Christians in order to safeguard everywhere the right to express publicly one’s faith and to be treated fairly when promoting that which Christianity continues to offer to contemporary society and culture. In this regard, we invite all Christians to promote an authentic dialogue with Judaism, Islam and other religious traditions. Indifference and mutual ignorance can only lead to mistrust and unfortunately even conflict.

8. From this holy city of Jerusalem, we express our shared profound concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their right to remain full citizens of their homelands. In trust we turn to the almighty and merciful God in a prayer for peace in the Holy Land and in the Middle East in general. We especially pray for the Churches in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, which have suffered most grievously due to recent events. We encourage all parties regardless of their religious convictions to continue to work for reconciliation and for the just recognition of peoples’ rights. We are persuaded that it is not arms, but dialogue, pardon and reconciliation that are the only possible means to achieve peace.

9. In an historical context marked by violence, indifference and egoism, many men and women today feel that they have lost their bearings. It is precisely through our common witness to the good news of the Gospel that we may be able to help the people of our time to rediscover the way that leads to truth, justice and peace. United in our intentions, and recalling the example, fifty years ago here in Jerusalem, of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, we call upon all Christians, together with believers of every religious tradition and all people of good will, to recognise the urgency of the hour that compels us to seek the reconciliation and unity of the human family, while fully respecting legitimate differences, for the good of all humanity and of future generations.

10. In undertaking this shared pilgrimage to the site where our one same Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and rose again, we humbly commend to the intercession of the Most Holy and Ever Virgin Mary our future steps on the path towards the fullness of unity, entrusting to God’s infinite love the entire human family.

'May the Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!'”.

Jerusalem, 25 May 2014.


Vatican City, 26 May 2014 (VIS) – Early this afternoon, the Pope visited the Basilica of the Nativity. The first historical references to this “cave of the manger of Bethlehem” date back to Origenes. In 326, the emperor Constantine ordered the construction of a basilica at the over the Grotto of the Nativity, with its floor raised slightly higher than ground level. Damaged by fire and the revolt of the Samaritans, it was restored in 540. In 614, the Persians under Khosrau II invaded the region but left the Basilica intact on account of its frescoes of the Magi in Persian dress. In 638, the Muslims entered Bethlehem, which passed to the Crusaders with the entry of Tancred in 1099. In 1187 Saladin occupied Jerusalem and Bethlehem but again spared the Shrine. In 1192, the bishop of Salisbury, Hubert Valter, re-established the Latin cult in return for payment of a tribute by the faithful. In 1347, the Franciscans obtained permission from the Ottomans to officiate in the Basilica and possession of the Grotto and the Basilica. In the sixteenth century there began a period of disputes between Franciscans and Greek Orthodox regarding the possession of the Basilica, which changed hands according the favour enjoyed at the Sublime Porte by the nations supporting the communities. With the defeat of the Venetians and their expulsion from Crete in 1669, the Orthodox were authorised to take possession of the Grotto and the Basilica. The latter is still their property, whereas the Grotto of the Nativity returned to the Franciscans in 1690. St. Catherine's Basilica, next to the Basilica of the Nativity, is the parish of the Latins in Bethlehem.

The ownership of the individual Holy Places is a vexed question that has given rise to dispute between the communities belonging to the three monotheistic religions of the Holy Land, and remains a delicate theme for international chancellors. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the struggle between the Byzantine and Latin communities, already heated, began to be affected by the highs and lows of international politics and the relations between the powers of the age: the Sultan of Istanbul, who considered the Christian Holy Places as state property; the Italian Maritime Republics which protected the Latins; and the Tsar of Russia, traditionally the protector of Orthodox Churches. Some sanctuaries passed from one community to another, at times only on the basis of the sum of money offered to the Sublime Porte. In 1850, a French request to the Sultan to clarify the matter led to a further dispute with Russia, and and a decree was issued from Istanbul in February 1852 to authorise the existing situation in the various shrines. The “statu quo” virtually froze the claims of the Franciscans in relation to the expropriations of which they had been victims for centuries, and cost them a high price in terms of human lives and property. This Ottoman edict remains in force today and continues to govern the situation in various Shrines such as the Grotto of the Nativity (Bethlehem), the Cenacle and the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem).

Pope Francis visited the Grotto of the Nativity, which he reached via an internal passage between the “Casa Nova” Convent and the Greek-Orthodox Basilica, and spent some time there in prayer. He returned by the same passage to the Convent where he was photographed with the Friars. He then proceeded to the “Phoenix Centre” in Bethlehem, a reception centre in the refugee camp of Dheisheh; the centre was built as a result of a donation from Pope John Paul II on his visit in 2000. The Pope was received in the auditorium of the centre by around one hundred children from the refugee camps of Dheisheh, Aida and Beit Jibrin. There was a festive atmosphere with singing, and two children presented the Pope with drawings, letters and craft works. The Pope prayed with the children, and before imparting his blessing a child read him a letter in which he said, 'we are children of Palestine. Our parents have endured occupation for 66 years. We opened our eyes to this occupation and have seen the nakba in the eyes of our grandparents as they left this world. We want to tell the world: enough suffering and humiliation!”.

“Don’t ever allow the past to determine your lives”, the Holy Father responded. “Always look to the future, work hard and make efforts to achieve what you want. But you must understand this: violence cannot be overcome by violence. Violence is overcome by peace! By peace, by working with dignity to help your homeland to move forward”. He then returned to the heliport, where he was awaited by the president of the State of Palestine who bid the Pope farewell, accompanied by the Guard of Honour. After a half-hour journey by helicopter the Pontiff arrived at the International Ben Gurion Airport of Tel Aviv, Israel, where he was received by Shimon Peres, president of the State; Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister; the political, civil and religious authorities, the Ordinaries of the Holy Land, and a choir of young people. “I have come on pilgrimage to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the historic visit of Pope Paul VI”, said Francis. “Since then, much has changed in the relationship between the Holy See and the State of Israel: diplomatic relations, established some twenty years ago, have favoured the development of good relations, as witnessed by the two Agreements already signed and ratified, and a third which is in the process of being finalised. In this spirit I greet all the people of Israel with prayerful good wishes that their aspirations of peace and prosperity will achieve fulfilment”.

The Pope went on to remark that the Holy Land is a spiritual point of reference for as the scene of a multi-millennial history and the principal events in the origin and growth of the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. “So I express my hope and prayer that this blessed land may be one which has no place for those who, by exploiting and absolutising the value of their own religious tradition, prove intolerant and violent towards those of others”. He commented that during his pilgrimage he would visit some of the most significant places in Jerusalem, “a city of universal importance”. “Jerusalem, of course, means 'city of peace'”, he continued. “This is what God wills it to be, and such is the desire of all people of good will. Yet sadly Jerusalem remains deeply troubled as a result of long standing conflicts. We all know how urgent is the need for peace, not only for Israel but also for the entire region. May efforts and energies be increasingly directed to the pursuit of a just and lasting solution to the conflicts which have caused so much suffering. In union with all men and women of good will, I implore those in positions of responsibility to leave no stone unturned in the search for equitable solutions to complex problems, so that Israelis and Palestinians may live in peace. The path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace must constantly be taken up anew, courageously and tirelessly. There is simply no other way”.

He went on to renew the appeal made by his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI during his 2009 visit: “the right of the State of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognised borders must be universally recognized. At the same time, there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement. The 'Two State Solution' must become reality and not remain merely a dream”.

The Pontiff went on to speak about a “particularly moving” part of his stay, his visit on Monday to the Yad Vashem Memorial to the six million Jews who were victims of the Shoah, “a tragedy which is the enduring symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink when, spurred by false ideologies, it fails to recognise the fundamental dignity of each person, which merits unconditional respect regardless of ethnic origin or religious belief. I beg God that there will never be another such crime, which also counted among its victims many Christians and others. Ever mindful of the past, let us promote an education in which exclusion and confrontation give way to inclusion and encounter, where there will be no place for anti-Semitism in any of its forms or for expressions of hostility, discrimination or intolerance towards any individual or people”.

He added, “It is with a profoundly saddened heart that I have heard of how many people lost their lives in Saturday's atrocious attack in Brussels. I thoroughly condemn this criminal act of anti-Semitic hatred, and commend the victims to God's mercy and pray for the recovery of the injured”.

The Holy Father remarked that the brevity of his visit necessarily limits the encounters he is able to make, but took the opportunity to greet all Israel’s citizens and to express his closeness to them, “particularly those living in Nazareth and in Galilee, where many Christian communities are found”. He concluded by addressing a “warm and fraternal greeting” to the bishops and the Christian faithful, and encouraged them “to persevere in their quiet witness of faith and hope in the service of reconciliation and forgiveness, following the teaching and example of the Lord Jesus, who gave his life to bring about peace between God and man, and between brothers. May you always be a leaven of reconciliation, bringing hope to others, bearing witness to charity! Know that you are constantly in my prayers”.


Vatican City, 26 May 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father has appointed Bishop Felipe Gonzalez Gonzalez, O.F.M. Cap., as apostolic vicar of Caroni (area 80,309, population 58,800, Catholics 43,700, priests 7, religious 26), Venezuela Bishop was previoiusly apostolic vicar of Tucupita, Venezuela.
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