My dear people of St. Mary’s:
You may have read that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is soon to make his first trip to the Middle East. The Vatican recently released his itinerary.
On Saturday, May 24, the Holy Father will leave Rome and fly to Amman, Jordan, where he will be greeted by the King and Queen of Jordan. The Pope will celebrate Mass at the International Stadium in Amman. Afterwards, the Holy Father will visit the site at Bethany Beyond the Jordan (River) where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. He will conclude his first day with an evening meeting with refugees and disabled young people.
On Sunday, May 25, Pope Francis will depart Jordan for Israel, and arrive by helicopter in Bethlehem, in the West Bank. He will then be greeted by the President of the Palestinian Authority. The Pope will offer Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem, followed by a lunch with ordinary families from Palestine in the Franciscan Convent of Casa Nova. Afterwards, the Pope will make a private visit to the Grotto of the Nativity, and then meet with children from local refugee camps.
Later, on Sunday afternoon, Pope Francis will depart for Tel Aviv, where he will be welcomed by Israeli officials and give an address. He will then travel to Jerusalem for a private meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, at the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem, where a joint declaration will be signed. Patriarch Bartholomew is the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and has held that position since 1991. Concluding the events of Sunday will be an ecumenical meeting at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.
On Monday, May 26, the Pope will meet the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the building of the Great Council on the Esplanade of the Mosques. Then the Pope will visit the Western (Wailing) Wall. He will lay a wreath at Mount Herzel, Israel’s national cemetery, and visit Yad Vashem. Pope Francis will meet the two Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem at the Heichal Shlomo Center, next to the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. He will follow this by a meeting with the President of Israel and a private meeting with the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Pope Francis will also have a second, private meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew on the Mount of Olives. Then there will be a meeting with priests, religious and seminarians in the Church of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Following this the Pope will celebrate Mass in the room of the Last Supper (the Cenacle) in Jerusalem. Late in the evening there will be a formal farewell from the State of Israel, after which the Pope departs for Rome.
This is a most important trip for Pope Francis. It was actually suggested by Patriarch Bartholomew. The Patriarch attended the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis in 2013, the first time the leader of Orthodox Christians attended such a Mass since the “Great Schism” in 1054. At the time of the installation Mass, he invited Pope Francis to travel with him to the Holy Land, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the embrace between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in 1964. Patriarch Bartholomew’s tenure has been known for outreach to the Roman Catholic Church, other Orthodox Churches, and even non-Christian religions.
I encourage you to pray for the Pope, for his safety, and for the success of this very important trip. On the night of the Last Supper, the Lord Jesus prayed for the unity of his Church, saying: “May they all be one.” The meeting in Jerusalem between the Holy Father and the Ecumenical Patriarch is a wonderful opportunity to finally turn that prayer into a reality.