"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Saturday 24 May 2014


Icon of SS. Peter and Andrew, given by Patriarch Athanagoras to Pope Paul
Ecumenical Patriarchate Announces Official Delegation for Meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem May 25, 2014

  Print Ecumenical Patriarchate Announces Official Delegation for Meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem May 25, 2014
Fr. Alexander Karloutsos
Mobile US: +1-917-453-0839
Mobile Intl.: +1-917-292-1534
email: fralex@goarch.org

Stavros Papagermanos 
Office: +1212-570-3530 
Mobile: +1718-415-5850 
email: stavros@goarch.org

NEW YORK – The Ecumenical Patriarchate today released a list of persons accompanying Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of over 300 million Orthodox faithful worldwide, on his pilgrimage to meet Pope Francis in Jerusalem. The trip commemorates the 1964 meeting of their predecessors; Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I. Included in the Official Delegation are the following:

His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America
His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy
His Eminence Metropolitan John of Pergamon
His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos of the Princes Islands
His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France
His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima
His Eminence Archbishop Job of Telmessos
The Very Rev. Bartholomew Samaras, The Chief Secretary
The Very Rev. Maximos Vgenopoulos, The Grand Archdeacon
The Very Rev. Andreas Sofianopoulos, The Defterevon Deacon
Mr. Theodore Angelopoulos, The Grand Logothete
Mr. Muhtar Kent

The meetings between the two world religious leaders will take place over a two-day period, May 25 and 26 in and around the Old City of Jerusalem.

His All Holiness Bartholomew is the Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch. He is the 269th successor of the 2,000-year old local Christian Church founded by St. Andrew. The Ecumenical Patriarch is a living witness to the world of Orthodoxy's painful and redemptive struggle for religious freedom and to the innate dignity of humankind. As a citizen of Turkey, His All Holiness's personal experience provides him a unique perspective on the continuing dialogue among the Christian, Islamic and Jewish worlds. He is known throughout the world as the "Green Patriarch" for his groundbreaking environmental initiatives and ecological theology. For his inspiring efforts on behalf of religious freedom and human rights, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was heralded as a Bridge Builder and Peacemaker and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the U.S. Congress in 1997.

Additional information about the visit of may be found online at: http://www.apostolicpilgrimage.org/

The Statement of His Holiness Pope Francis on the Meeting may be found at:

The Statement of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew may be found at:


my source: The Economist Explains

POPE FRANCIS is about to undergo the greatest test of his diplomatic and inter-personal skills since he assumed the highest office in the Christian world just over a year ago. On May 24th the pope will visit the Holy Land for a three-day tour, proceeding from Jordan to the Palestinian territories and then to Israel. Pope Francis will follow his predecessors in visiting Jerusalem's Western Wall as well as the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. When Pope Benedict trod the same ground in 2009, he somewhat disappointed his hosts by referring to "millions" of deaths in the Holocaust (rather than the precise figure of 6m) and speaking of the Shoah as "tragedy" rather than a crime. That gives some idea of the intense scrutiny to which Pope Francis's every word and gesture will be subjected. Why is he visiting the Holy Land?

Formally speaking, Pope Francis's journey to the Holy Land is a pilgrimage whose main purpose has to do with Christianity's internal divisions. On Sunday evening and again the following day, he will meet Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch who is deemed the "first among equals" within the hierarchy of Orthodox church. They will mark the 50th anniversary of a meeting between a pope and patriarch which was considered a breakthrough in inter-church relations. Even that meeting will have its difficulties. Conservative Orthodox Christians will be watching suspiciously to see whether the Patriarch, from their point of view, compromises on any theological principles that have divided the Christian West and the Christian East since 1054.

Inevitably, though, the pope's hectic tour will have much wider resonance because of the signals it will send to the conflicting parties in the Middle East, and to the Abrahamic faiths. Relations between Israel and the Holy See are laden with historical baggage. The Vatican reacted sceptically to Israel's creation in 1948 and the two polities exchanged ambassadors only in 1994; even now, some of the details governing Catholic properties and religious orders in the Holy Land have yet to be settled. The broad trend in Vatican-Israeli relations has been one of improvement, although they were shaken when Pope Benedict rehabilitated a holocaust-denying bishop, and when the Vatican sharply criticised Israel's reaction to the Palestinian intifada. The Palestinians, meanwhile, will welcome the opportunity to highlight the realities of life in the occupied territories. The Pope will travel from Amman to Bethlehem, which apart from being the traditional site of Christ's nativity is a stronghold of Palestinian Christians, whether Orthodox, Catholic or Lutheran. As well as celebrating Mass he will visit a Palestinian refugee camp, and doubtless reaffirm the Vatican's support for a two-state solution in the region.

Whatever he does and says, Francis won't please everybody. And there are some people for whom his very presence in Jerusalem is unwelcome. In an unpleasant sign of lingering inter-religious hostilities, not seen in previous papal visits, some Christian sites have been daubed with slogans like "Jesus is garbage" and "Death to Christians", apparently the work of Jewish extremists who have been denounced by Amos Oz, the Israeli author, as "Hebrew neo-Nazis". For all his charm and charisma, the Argentine pope will find some people hard to win over.

Dig deeper:

What a crisis-ridden company could learn from the pope (April 2014)


Pope Francis in the Holy Land: 5 things to know
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - So, a rabbi, a sheikh and a pope travel to the Holy Land…

It might sound like the start of a trite joke, but it’s actually the entourage for one of the most highly anticipated papal trips in recent history.

As Pope Francis heads to Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem this weekend, he’s bringing along two old friends from Argentina: Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who co-wrote a book with the Pope, and Sheikh Omar Abboud, who leads Argentina’s Muslim community.

The Vatican says it’s the first time that a pope’s official entourage has included interfaith leaders.

In a region roiled by competing religious and political visions, Francis’ chosen companions communicate an unmistakable message, church officials said.

“It’s highly symbolic, of course,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.

“But it also sends a pragmatic message to Muslims, Christians and Jews that it’s possible to work together - not as a system of checks and balances but as friends.”

The visit to the Holy Land is the first for Francis as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and just the fourth for any pontiff in the modern era.

With so much at stake - the stalled negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, the plight of Christian refugees - the Pope’s every word, gesture and photo-op will be microscopically examined.

Already, some conservative Israelis are advocating against the Pope’s visit, scrawling anti-Christian graffiti on Catholic buildings in Jerusalem and planning  protests outside papal events in Jerusalem.

While the protesters form a fringe minority, they underscore the tensions that simmer around the Pope’s short but substantial trip.

With those challenges in mind, here are five key things to pay particular attention to.

1. The Pope’s schedule makes Rick Steves look lazy.

It’s a good thing the 77-year-old pontiff rested up this week.

Francis will be traveling to three cities, shaking hands with dozens of religious and political leaders, celebrating two Catholic Masses and delivering at least 13 speeches and homilies – all in less than 36 hours.

In Jordan, the Pope will meet with King Hussein, greet refugees from Iraq and Syria, celebrate Mass and visit the Jordan River, where many Christians believe Jesus was baptized.

In Bethlehem, he will convene with the President of the Palestinian Authority, celebrate Mass in Manger Square, lunch with Palestinian families, greet children from refugee camps and visit the site of Jesus’ birth.

In Jerusalem, the Pope will meet the city’s grand mufti and chief rabbis, visit the Western Wall and Yad Vashem (a memorial to the Holocaust), lay a wreath on the grave of the founder of modern Zionism, and sign a joint declaration with the head of Eastern Orthodox Christians.

He’ll also confer with Israel’s Prime Minister and President, chat with Catholic seminarians and celebrate Mass at the site of the Last Supper.

Got all that?

“I’m amazed at what they are trying to do in such a short amount of time,” Rosica said.

2. The Pope says the trip is religious, not political.

Francis has called the reasons behind his Holy Land excursion “strictly religious.” Earlier, he had described it as a “pilgrimage for prayer.”

Perhaps the popular pontiff was trying to tamp down expectations that his visit could solve the region’s seemingly intractable political problems. But the trip does have religious roots, church officials say.

At the Pope’s installation in 2013, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, invited Francis to Jerusalem to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic meeting between their predecessors.

“It’s hard to understand now what a breakthrough that meeting was,” said the Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, an Eastern Orthodox priest who is helping organize part of the Pope's trip.

At the time, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, the world’s two largest Christian communities, weren’t even on speaking terms, said Karloutsos. Marriages celebrated in one church would not be recognized by the other.

On Sunday, Francis and Bartholomew will sign a joint declaration outlining common principles and a potential path forward to greater unity.

“These people don’t sign things lightly,” Karloutsos said. “This is a very substantial document.”

Francis and Bartholomew also will celebrate a joint religious service at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Sunday, the first time the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders have held such a service in 50 years, according to Karloutsos.

3. The ‘people’s Pope’ will strike again

He has celebrated Masses for migrants who drowned while trying to sail to Europe, visited Brazil’s most dangerous neighborhoods and welcomed homeless men in Rome to his birthday party.

In the Holy Land, Pope Francis is again expected to draw the world’s attention to the poor and downtrodden and has refused to travel, as most leaders do in the Middle East, in an armored car.

In Jordan, where some 600,000 Syrians have fled since the start of the civil war in 2011, the Pope will meet refugees and disabled young people before delivering a speech at a church in Bethany.

On the West Bank, he will greet children from several Palestinian refugee camps.

Palestinian Archbishop Atallah Hanna, who is Eastern Orthodox (as are most Christians in the Middle East) said he hopes Pope Francis will “see the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

“We are misrepresented and are unfortunately seen by some to be criminals and terrorists and that our people actually enjoy blood, murder and violence,” Hanna said.

“I hope they can see that we are a civilized, peaceful and well-educated people seeking freedom and a better future.”

John Esposito, an expert on Christian-Muslim relations at Georgetown University, said the Pope’s meeting with Christians in Bethlehem could open some eyes.

“It will underscore the fact that it’s not just a Muslim-Jewish conflict,” he said.

4. Conservative Israelis are nervous.

In the weeks before the Pope’s arrival, graffiti calling Jesus “garbage” and calling for “death to Arabs and Christians” has been scrawled on Christian buildings in Jerusalem.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews have planned to protest outside the site of the Last Supper - known as the Cenacle - because it is also said to house King David’s tomb.

They believe Christians should not hold religious services, as Pope Francis plans to do on Sunday, so close to a Jewish holy site, and they worry that Israel will turn the Cenacle over to the Vatican during the Pope’s visit, according to reports.

Jerusalem's five most contested sites

On Wednesday, Israeli police issued restraining orders on several right-wing Jewish activists, according to The New York Times, ordering them to stay away from the Pope during his visit.

Rabbi David Rosen, international director for interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Congress, told CNN that the troublemakers are fringe figures who “don’t deserve anything like the attention they’ve gotten.”

“The vast majority of Israelis are looking forward to the Pope’s visit, if they’re even aware of it yet,” said Rosen, who is in Jerusalem to participate in papal events.

The rabbi said he is slightly chagrined, though, that Francis will not hold an interfaith service with Muslim and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, as Pope Benedict XVI did in 2009.

“I am personally disappointed that this opportunity to demonstrate in actions and not simply in words the possibility of bringing together Christians, Muslims and Jews is not on his schedule.”

The Vatican says that, because the Pope is traveling with Rabbi Skorka and Sheikh Abboud, the whole trip is essentially an interfaith gathering.

5. Muslims view Francis as a welcome change.

Pope Benedict XVI didn’t have the best relationship with Muslims, said Georgetown's Esposito, who is traveling to Jordan to meet with Francis on Saturday.

The former Pope quoted anti-Islamic remarks made by a 14th-century Christian emperor in a speech in 2006, leading to Muslim riots.

Benedict apologized, but later baptized a prominent Muslim-born journalist, which some Islamic leaders called an unnecessary provocation.

In contrast, one of Francis’ first interfaith steps as Pope was to wash the feet of two Muslims during a Holy Thursday ceremony in 2013, a move noted throughout the Islamic world, Esposito said.

“What popes do is as symbolically important as what they say,” Esposito said, “and Muslims have been very impressed with Francis.”

The Pope also called on Western nations to find a peaceful solution to Syria’s civil war, rather than use military force.

On this trip to the Holy Land, Francis is expected to call for a Palestinian state, which has long been Vatican policy, but will surely upset some Israelis.

That can't-please-both dilemma shows how hard it can be to navigate the Holy Land for any world leader, even one with the charisma and political acumen of Francis.

Bringing a sheikh and rabbi along may help buffer the Pope from some criticism, but ultimately, all eyes will be on the man in white.

Four goals of the papal visit to Holy Land
Thomas Reese  |  May. 23, 2014 Faith and Justice
Francis in the Holy Land
my source: National Catholic Reporter
Pope Francis' three-day visit to the Holy Land beginning Saturday will be full of opportunities and challenges. On one level, like any pilgrim, he comes to pray in the Holy Land where Jesus walked and lived. But as leader of the Catholic community, he also has four goals that go beyond those of a typical pilgrim.
The first is ecumenical. During the visit, the pope will meet with Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem of their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I.

It is hard for us who now take ecumenism for granted to realize how historic was that 1964 meeting, which led to the lifting of the mutual excommunications that had stood in place for over 900 years. This scandalous division included hatred and bloodshed, and the wounds are still tender.

But the meeting between Francis and Bartholomew is not just about reconciliation and healing. Both leaders realize how all Christians need to join in common cause to respond to the needs of the poor and the environment and to work for peace.

The second goal of the pope's visit is interreligious. Traveling with the pope are Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Omar Abboud of the Islamic Center of the Argentine Republic. While archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis was friends with both men, even writing a book (Of Heaven and Earth) with Rabbi Skorka. Pope Francis hopes that his visit will advance the cause of interreligious dialogue and cooperation. Only when these three great faiths live and work in harmony will there be peace.

The third goal of the visit will be to bring support and encouragement to the Christians in the Middle East. The presence of Christians in the Middle East goes back to the time of the Apostles, but it is threatened by extremism and violence.

Coptic Christians live in fear in Egypt. Iraq was much safer for Christians before the U.S. invasion than it is now. At one time, Bethlehem was a Christian town; now it is two-thirds Muslim. Even Christians in Israel now fear Jewish extremists who have been defiling Christian sites.

As a result, Christians, especially the young, are fleeing the Middle East as fast as they can. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, fears that the Holy Land will become a "spiritual Disneyland," a tourist/pilgrim destination without a permanent Christian presence.

Pope Francis wants to bring a message of concern and hope to these Christians whose ancestors were among the earliest followers of Jesus.

Finally, the pope wants to do whatever he can to bring about peace in the Middle East, especially a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Diplomats have given up on the peace process. The pope understands that peace will come only when there is true conversion of hearts where both sides recognize in the other a brother and sister.

These are four huge, impossible goals. The pope has shown himself to be an extraordinary leader, but he is not a miracle worker. He can bring his message and witness to its power, but in reality, he can only set a tone and nudge the players in the right direction.

The Middle East is such a minefield that for any other world leader, getting in and out without having a disaster would be considered success. That the pope constantly surprises us and leads us to hope, but experience warns us to be realistic. 

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is treesesj@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

my source: Aljazeera
Beit Jala, West Bank - Pope Francis' trip to the Holy Land this week is being met with high expectations by the faithful and politicians alike. Arriving in Jordan on May 24, before heading to the West Bank and Israel in the two days that follow, the pope will meet with Christian families, as well as political and religious leaders from all three monotheistic faiths.

"The pope [is expected to] tell us ... not to be afraid," said Michel Sabbah, the former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. "Whatever our situation is: with our small numbers, persecution, we will remain strong, and that's the message I hope that the pope will give us. [We also hope] he will say a word of justice and peace addressing the political situation."

The trip comes at a time when Palestinian-Israeli talks are at a standstill and a politically-charged environment is prevalent in the Holy Land. There's also a sense of bitterness as anti-Christian "price tag" attacks perpetrated by Jewish extremists escalate.

RELATED: Israel warns extremists ahead of papal visit

In the past, these "price-tag" attacks were made in an apparent retribution for the removal of West Bank outposts that are deemed illegal by Israeli authorities. These days, the attacks seem to be perpetrated irrespective of Israeli actions vis-a-vis settlements.

Officially, the pope is here to to meet the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I on the 50th anniversary of the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration. It was during this 1964 historic visit to Jerusalem by their predecessors that an agreement was made to end the two churches' schism.

"It will be a renewal of unity for Christians here and all over the world," Sabbah said. The two religious leaders will hold a joint prayer service at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried.

But Christians, whose numbers are dwindling here, hope the pope will deliver a message of support as they face increasing challenges. In February, an Israeli law designating Palestinian Christians as a separate minority group was passed, in a move criticised by some religious leaders as an attempt to separate Palestinians along religious lines. This was followed by an Israeli push to recruit them into the country's army.

A policeman walks past graffiti on the wall of a church reading in Hebrew 'King David king of the Jews and Jesus is garbage' [AFP]

The issue is highly contentious because, Sabbah says, it pits Palestinians against their "brothers". "We, as religious leaders, told Palestinian Christians inside Israel, 'If you go into the Israeli army, that means that you are going into an army where your main function will be either to kill a Palestinian, or to keep humiliating him in his daily life.'"

Last week, vandals daubed hate graffiti on Vatican-owned property in East Jerusalem. "Death to Arabs and Christians and all those who hate Israel" was scrawled in Hebrew on church property in the same week that more than 200 Orthodox Jews protested against the pope's planned visit to the place where Jesus is believed to have had his last supper.

The protest has cast into the limelight an ongoing dispute between the Holy See and Israeli authorities over the complex that houses the Cenacle, but is also revered by Jews as the Tomb of David and by Muslims as a 16th century mosque.

The Vatican has called on Israeli authorities, who are fearful of a rise of similar attacks in the lead-up to the pope's visit, to take action. "In the last year, [price tag attacks] have doubled," said Yousef Daher of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre. "In 2013, there were 22 incidents against Christian property while in 2011 it was around 11. We can see a trend of increasing price-tag attacks on Christians and Palestinians inside Israel and in the West Bank."

Despite these fears, the pontiff is not expected to use his famous popemobile or any other bulletproof car. Instead, he will riding an open-topped vehicle, so he can get as close to people as possible, the Vatican said. Throughout this trip, the pope will be accompanied by a rabbi and an Islamic leader, another symbol of the inter-faith dialogue Francis has been pushing for since his inauguration in 2013.

Many Christians are already expressing frustration with the limited number of tickets being made available to their communities for the mass at Bethlehem's Manger Square. Some are also unhappy that the pontiff's trip will exclude a visit to Nazareth, the town where Jesus is believed to have grown up. Meanwhile, there are worries that stringent restrictions, which Israeli authorities say are for security reasons, will hinder Christians from greeting their spiritual leader.

"What we are expecting [is] Jerusalemites will not enjoy their holy guest like everybody enjoys the pope's audience every Wednesday in Rome, or when he visits Brazil or Lebanon," Daher said. "This has been the case with every single visit by a pope. We had a very hard time with Pope Benedict's visit, and it seems we will not be in close touch with our holy visitor [this time around either]."

In Jordan for only half a day, the pope will visit the site of Jesus' baptism, and he will meet with Syrian and Iraqi refugees, as well as people with disabilities. He will then cross the River Jordan aboard a helicopter and land in Bethlehem, where he will lead a holy mass at Manger Square and have lunch with several Christian families from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel's Galilee.

The final leg of his Palestinian tour will include a private tour of the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus is believed to have been born, and a meeting with Palestinian children at the Dheisheh refugee camp.

From Bethlehem, the pontiff is expected to travel to Jerusalem via Tel Aviv, a convoluted itinerary - considering Bethlehem is a ten-minute car ride away - that takes into account that a final status solution has not been reached between Israel and the Palestinians regarding the Holy City.

Once in Jerusalem, he will visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, meet with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem - the city's top Muslim cleric - at the Noble Sanctuary, and leave a prayer message at one of the Western Wall's crevices. He will also meet with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, chief rabbis, the Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The pope will also lay wreaths at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum, and Mount Herzl.

A Ticket for Three: The Rabbi, the Imam, and the Pope 
my source: Sandro Magister

A Jew and a Muslim in Francis's official entourage in the Holy Land. But it's not all smooth sailing in relations with Judaism and Islam. Bergoglio's strategy: "soothe the conflicts" by Sandro Magister ROME, May 23, 2104 – Jorge Mario Bergoglio is not a newcomer to the unexpected when he sets foot in the Holy Land. The first and until now the only time he has gone, in October of 1973, he crossed paths with the Yom Kippur War and was able to visit little or nothing. This time he is going back as pope, on a trip of only three days from Saturday the 24th to Monday the 26th of May, but the itinerary is packed, with one great innovation even before the departure: Francis has included among the members of his official entourage a Jew and a Muslim, Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, two of his Argentine friends. Rabbi Skorka has revealed that in Jerusalem, in front of the temple wall, he and the pope will make a gesture that will go down in history. They will embrace and pray together, with this prophecy of Isaiah as a guide: "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage." A song of peace for that tormented region and for the two peoples of the Old and New Testament. A close friendship between a pope and a Jew is not unusual. Even the intransigent Pius X had a Jewish friend in Moisé Jacur, a landowner in the lower Veneto. The controversial Pius XII was greatly admired by the chief rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, who eventually converted and took as his baptismal name that of the pope, Eugenio. But not all Jews share Rabbi Skorka's enthusiasm for the current pope. For example, many do not like the fact that Bergoglio has gone back to calling them "older brothers," as pope Karol Wojtyla was the first to do. Benedict XVI, himself a friend of the great American Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner, warned of where the danger lay: in the Jewish tradition the "older brother," meaning Esau, is the one who is disinherited and supplanted by the younger, Jacob. Who would now be represented by the Church. Pope Benedict preferred to call the Jews "our fathers in faith." * With Islam as well Francis has a relationship of ups and downs. The first stage of the voyage will be Jordan, whose royal house gave the impusle seven years ago to that letter of the 138 Muslim scholars in response to Benedict XVI's memorable discourse in Regensburg that still marks the high point in the dialogue between Christians and Muslims. But a short distance from Amman and from the Jordan River in which Jesus was baptized are Syria, Egypt, Iraq, that legendary "fertile crescent" which today is the theater of a fratricidal conflict between Shiite and Sunni Islam, between Iran and the kingdoms of the Gulf, with Christians as the victims of both, in a desperate exodus from those lands which in the first centuries of the Church were all thrivingly Christian. And farther away is Africa, there as well with Christians under systematic attack not only by fanatical Muslim groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, but also by states like Sudan that give the force of law to the most violent precepts of the Quran itself. There has been disappointment among those who were expecting Pope Francis to raise his voice promptly and vigorously against the Boko Haram kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls and against the death sentence in Sudan for a young mother named Meriam, eight months pregnant, guilty only of being Christian: two events that have raised the strongest of protests all over the world. Bergoglio is very cautious about going out into the open on this explosive terrain. Not only out of a prudence intended to avoid aggravating even more the situation of Christian communities already at a dangerous extreme, but precisely on account of his own vision of dialogue between Islam and Christianity, as a search for that which unites rather than a judgment on that which divides. Rabbi Skorka has said that he has heard him say "we must soothe the conflicts." In "Evangelii Gaudium," the manifesto and blueprint of his pontificate, Francis demanded for Muslim countries that freedom of worship which believers in Islam enjoy in Western countries. But the Egyptian Jesuit Samir Khalil Samir - the Islamologist who during the pontificate of Benedict XVI was among those most closely listened to by the Vatican authorities and by the pope himself - has objected that Francis has been silent on the lack of freedom to convert from one religion to another, which is the real sore spot of the Muslim world. 



Impact of the Historic Meeting of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras
By Fr. Thomas FitzGerald

Fifty years ago, the relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church took a dramatic turn towards encounter and dialogue.  On Jan. 6, 1964, Pope Paul VI (+1978) and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras (+1972) met on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. They prayed together and exchanged the kiss of peace. This continued a less formal meeting on the previous day.

Such a blessed encounter at that time captured the attention of the Christian world. It marked a dramatic turn from alienation to engagement. This was the first formal meeting of a Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch since 1438.

"May this meeting of ours," said Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, "be the first glimmer of dawn of a shining and holy day in which Christian generations of the future will receive communion in the holy Body and Blood of the Lord from the same chalice, in love, peace and unity, and will praise and glorify the one Lord and Savior of all."

"It was fitting," said Pope Paul VI, "that it should be in this center forever blessed and sacred that we, pilgrims from Rome and Constantinople, are able to meet and join in common prayer."

The Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch recognized that their meeting did not end the schism which persisted since 1484. They knew that both churches now had to address the difficult issues of division. Yet, they also believed that the Spirit was guiding their churches toward reconciliation. They declared in a Common Statement that they "met with the desire to fulfill the Lord's will and proclaim the ancient truth of the Gospel confided to the Church."

The meeting of the pope and patriarch took place at a time when the Catholic Church was engaged in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). This gathering marked a renewal of the Catholic Church and formally approved involvement in the quest for Christian unity.  Prior to the Council, the Catholic Church had formally avoided ecumenical dialogues.

With the leadership of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, the Orthodox Church also entered into a period of renewed conciliarity with series of Pan Orthodox Conferences (1961-1968). Bringing the Autocephalous Church out of their isolation, these meetings were designed to set the stage for a Great and Holy Council which would address common challenges. They also affirmed Orthodox participation in bilateral dialogues with the Catholic Church and other Christian churches.

Following the historic meeting of the Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church entered into a period of fruitful contacts and reconciling actions.

The limited Anathemas of 1054 were lifted by the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch and his Synod in 1965.
Led by the Archbishop Iakovos of America (+2005), the first bilateral Theological Dialogue between Orthodox and Catholic Churches was established in the United States in the same year and has continued to this day.
This was followed by the inauguration of an International Theological Dialogue in 1979.  The goal of these dialogues is the resolution of doctrinal differences and the restoration of full communion between the churches.
Since then, popes and patriarchs have met regularly. In addition, clergy and laity from the two churches have joined in prayer, in study and in pilgrimages designed to foster reconciliation and unity.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will meet with Pope Francis in Jerusalem May 25 - 26 to commemorate the historic meeting of their predecessors. The meeting was proposed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew when he met with the new pope the day after his installation on March 20, 2013.

The meeting in Jerusalem will also be an historic one. It will be a time of renewed prayer for reconciliation. It will also be an opportunity to recall the rich blessings of healing, dialogue and common service as the churches have traveled on the path of reconciliation for the past fifty years.

Rev. Dr.  Thomas FitzGerald, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, is Professor of Church History and Historical and former Dean at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He is the executive secretary of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Bilateral Consultation.

The Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church: What Has Changed in Fifty Years?

by Fr. Thomas FitzGerald
When Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew meet in Jerusalem on May 25-26, 2014, they will recall the meeting of their predecessors Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in the same city in 1964.  In the midst of prayer and recollection in the Holy Places, the leaders of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church will give thanks to God for the dramatic change in the relationship between their churches in the past fifty years.  They will recall the prayer of the Lord for this disciples ‘that they all be one' (John 17:21). 

Within five decades, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church formally have moved from isolation to engagement, from monologue to dialogue, and from misunderstanding to mutual enrichment.  These developments can only have taken place with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and with the commitment of devoted clergy and laity to the process of reconciliation.

While the relationship between the churches may differ from place to place, these are some of the significant developments in the past fifty years:

The Ecumenical Patriarchate has the special responsibility of guiding the Orthodox dialogue with the Catholic Church.  This Orthodox dialogue with the Church of Rome has the approval of the Fourteen Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.

The Catholic Church recognizes the preeminent leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarch among all the Orthodox.
After centuries of alienation, both the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church have formally committed themselves to the restoration of full communion through an agreed understanding of the Apostolic Faith.   Both Churches now see themselves as ‘Sister Churches' with the responsibility of maintaining the Apostolic Faith and healing their division.
For the Catholics, this commitment to reconciliation was expressed at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and in subsequent statements. For the Orthodox, this commitment was expressed in the decisions of the Pan-Orthodox-Conferences (1961-1968) and in subsequent statements.

Both churches recognize a state of schism exists. This schism resulted primarily from different understandings of authority in the Church and specifically the role of the Bishop of Rome.  The division developed over centuries and reached a point of schism in the fifteenth century (1484).   Theological differences were compounded by linguistic, political and cultural factors. 
Both churches recognize that the restoration of unity requires prayer for reconciliation, the resolution of differences in teachings and practices, and a common witness to the Gospel in the society. As the schism occurred over time, so also the process of reconciliation will take place over time.
Orthodox and Catholic look to the day when they can heal the schism and share in the Holy Eucharist.  Both Orthodox and Catholics recognize the Eucharist to be the center of church life and personal piety.  However, the schism prevents the faithful in both churches from joining together in the celebration of the Eucharist.

The Anathemas of 1054 were removed by the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople in 1965. The original acts of excommunication were directed against particular persons, not against the churches as a whole. Although some later historians set 1054 as the date of the schism, in fact this was only one of a number of events that weakened the bonds between the churches. Indeed, the relationships continued after this, until at least the fifteenth century.

Popes and Ecumenical Patriarchs have met frequently since 1964. These meetings symbolize the new relationship between the churches. They also provide opportunities for the senior hierarchs to pray together and to discuss issues of church life.

Every year, the Ecumenical Patriarchate sends a delegation to Rome to observe the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome on June 29. Likewise, the Church of Rome sends a formal delegation to Constantinople to observe the feast of St Andrew on November 30. 

Theologians from both churches meet regularly to discuss issues of division and points of agreement.  The North American Consultation began in 1965. The Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops in the United States began in 1981.The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue was established in 1979.

The issues that have divided the churches are being examined in depths. These include different understandings of primacy and conciliarity as well as different understandings of the relationship of the persons of the Holy Trinity.  At the same time, the theologians of both churches have affirmed a common understanding of the Holy Trinity and the Church as well as Baptism and the Eucharist. In looking to the future, they have recognized that the early church affirmed a diversity of practices and theological emphasis provided that the unity of the faith was preserved.

These official theological dialogues have been enriched by the recent studies by Orthodox and Catholic scholars who have examined the theological, historical, cultural and linguistic factors that contributed to the schism.

Catholic theologians are studying the Orthodox practice of synodality, of a married priesthood and of the process of recognizing the dissolution of a marriage.

Theological students and seminarians from each church have studied with those from the other tradition.

Orthodox and Catholic Bishops have addressed together critical social and moral issues in the American society.

Led by their bishops, many Orthodox and Catholic clergy and laity have participated in pilgrimages to Rome and Constantinople.

At the local level, many Orthodox and Catholics have come together for special prayer services, retreats and conferences.

Members of both churches recognize that they honor Mary, the Mother of God, as well as the saints and martyrs. They have come to appreciate the saints which are honored in both traditions. These saints serve as an unbroken bond between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

The relics of many saints have been returned by the Catholic Church to the Orthodox. In 2004, for example, the relics of St Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom were returned to Constantinople by Pope John Paul II.

Orthodox and Catholic read the spiritual and theological writings of teachers from each other's church.  They have been enriched by the studies of the Scriptures and Fathers of the Church.

Many Catholics have deepened their appreciation of the meaning of icons, and their place in worship and teaching.
Marriages of Orthodox and Catholic have dramatically increased. The Catholic Church recognizes marriages of an Orthodox and Catholic in good standing blessed by an Orthodox priest.
With the blessing of their pastor, Orthodox young people are free to attend Catholic schools. And, Catholic young people are free to attend Orthodox schools. The differences in church practices are recognized. There can be no attempt to proselytize.

Orthodox and Catholic humanitarian agencies frequently cooperate in providing aid at disasters.   

Many Catholic and Orthodox parishes join together in sponsoring food pantries and meals for the needy. In this way, they express a common commitment in the name of Christ to the well being of the society.
Speaking of the quest for unity, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew says:

We know that the process of reconciliation is not always easy. The division between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church has persisted for centuries.  Yet, we firmly believe that, with the guidance of the Risen Lord, our differences are not beyond resolution. Moreover, we believe that we have a solemn obligation to our Lord to heal our painful divisions. For this reason, we must be persistent in our prayer. We must increase our expressions of love and mutual respect. We must strengthen our theological dialogue.

Rev. Dr. Thomas FitzGerald, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, is Professor of Church History and Historical Theology, and former Dean at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, MA.   He is the Orthodox Executive Secretary of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Bilateral Consultation in North America.

Patriarch Bartholomew presides at the Divine Liturgy in the Church of the Resurrection


May 25, 2014: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew And Pope Francis Issue Joint Declaration

JERUSALEM – His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Holiness Pope Francis crossed a fifty-year milestone today, continuing the legacy of their predecessors Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. In 1964, those leaders broke a silence of centuries and paved the way toward greater dialogue.

Meeting this afternoon at the Apostolic Delegation in the Old City of Jerusalem, the global heads of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches signed a Joint Declaration affirming their commitment to seek unity between their respective ecclesial bodies. Moreover, they expressed their profound concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their fundamental right to remain full citizens of their homelands:

We are persuaded that it is not arms, but dialogue, pardon and reconciliation that are the only possible means to achieve peace.

The Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch also reaffirmed their 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.

Finally, the two world leaders underlined the importance of religious understanding and dialogue:

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. (see full text of the Joint Declaration below)

Joint Declaration by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis

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".[1] 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" (Jn 17:21).

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[2], 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 (cf. Jn 13:35).

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 (cf. Jn 16:13).

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 emarginated.

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 recognize 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!" (Num 6:25-26).

[1] Common communiqué of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, published after their meeting of 6 January 1964.
[2] Against Heresies, IV, 18, 5 (PG 7, 1028)


Jerusalem — Pope Francis finished his three-day visit to the Holy Land on Monday with a whirlwind tour of religious and political sites, including an unscheduled stop arranged by the Israeli prime minister in order to make a political point.

The pontiff’s itinerary covered Al-Aqsa mosque and the Western Wall; meetings with Israel’s president, prime minister, and two chief rabbis; a trip to the Holocaust memorial and a private mass in Jerusalem at a contentious site.

Much of his day was sterile in contrast to Sunday’s colourful mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square and several public events in Jordan the day before. Jerusalem’s streets and holy places had been cleared for the pope, and he had no opportunity to talk to pilgrims or residents of the city.

He started the morning at Al-Aqsa, the third-holiest site in Islam, where he met with the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Hussein . The pope urged members of the three monotheistic faiths, "all communities who look to Abraham" not to "abuse the name of God through violence".

The grand mufti said: "Peace in this land will not happen until the end of the occupation, and when people get their freedom and full rights".

The pope then visited the Western Wall, the remains of the biblical Second Temple and the holiest site at which Jews are permitted to pray. He followed tradition and left a written prayer inside the cracks of the wall, reportedly the text of the Lord’s Prayer written in his native Spanish.

Politics and prayers

It was his next stop, at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionist ideology, that provided the day’s political moment. The visit itself was symbolic: Francis became the first pope to lay flowers on the grave, 110 years after Pope Pius X met Herzl and rejected the idea of a Jewish state.

Afterwards, at the behest of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the pope made a brief stop at a nearby memorial for Jews killed by Palestinians. It was a response to the pope’s unplanned prayer yesterday at the separation wall between Israel and the occupied West Bank, a dramatic moment which provided the defining image of his trip. 

"If the incitement against the state of Israel ceases, along with the terrorism, there will be no need for ... the security fence, which has saved lives," Netanyahu told the pope during a private meeting later, using the preferred Israeli name for the barrier.

Netanyahu and the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, met Francis separately on Monday afternoon. Peres, along with his Palestinian counterpar Mahmoud Abbas, have both accepted an invitation to a "joint prayer for peace" at the Vatican on June 6.

The pope’s final stop before the airport was a mass at the Cenacle, the site where Christians believe Jesus held the Last Supper. Jews believe it is the burial site of the biblical King David, and several groups held protests in the run-up to the pope’s visit, believing that Israel was planning to give the Vatican sovereignty over the site. Monday’s mass was uneventful, however.

Source: Al Jazeera

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