Pope Francis in the Holy Land Seventh Sunday of Easter—June 1, 2014
St. Luke tells us in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles that after Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples and Mary went back to the upper room in Jerusalem. The upper room is called the cenacle.
The cenacle was the place where Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover and ate their last supper together. The site of the cenacle has a colorful history.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. it is thought that the original building that housed the cenacle was destroyed. Through the centuries there were numerous destructions and reconstructions of the building. The site was occupied at various times by Christians, Jews and Muslims depending on who was in control of the city of Jerusalem.
In the 14th century the Franciscans were in possession of the building constructed by the crusaders.
In the 16th century, after the Turks captured Jerusalem, the room was transformed into a mosque with a minaret above the building.
Today the cenacle is located on the second floor of a stone building on the remains of a byzantine church. The first floor contains what many Jews and some Muslims believe to be King David’s burial place.
Just a week ago Pope Francis on his three day pilgrimage to the holy land, celebrated mass at the cenacle. This was significant because the cenacle is a place that is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims.
At the mass in the cenacle, Pope Francis recalled in his homily that this upper room was where jesus shared the last supper with the apostles. It is the place also where he appeared to his disciples after the resurrection. It was in the upper room in jerusalem that the holy spirit on pentecost came to the disciples and mary.
Pope Francis said: “it was here that the church was born. From here she set out with the broken bread in her hands, the wounds of christ before her eyes, and the spirit of love in her heart. “
Pope Francis reminded his congregation of bishops and patriarchs that the upper room speaks to us of service. He said that it was there in the cenacle that jesus gave the disciples an example of service by washing their feet. He said that washing one another’s feet signifies welcoming, accepting, loving and serving one another. It means serving the poor, the sick and the outcast, those that we find difficult; those who annoy us.
You cannot be in the upper room without thinking of the eucharistic sacrifice. Pope Francis said in his homily: “in every eucharistic celebration jesus offers himself for us to the father, so that we too can be united with him, offering to god our lives, our work, our joys and our sorrows.”
Pope Francis continued with these words: “how much love and goodness has flowed from the upper room! How much charity has gone forth from here, like a river from its source, beginning as a stream and then expanding and becoming a great torrent?”
He said: “the upper room reminds us of the birth of the new family, the church, our holy mother the hierarchical church established by the risen jesus; a family that has a mother, the virgin mary. All god’s children, of every people and language, are invited and called to be part of this great family, as brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of the one father in heaven.”
In his three day pilgrimage to the holy land Pope Francis preached 13 homilies and spoke to crowds made up of Christians, Jews and Muslims.
In an unusual sign of interfaith friendship Pope Francis invited his good friend, Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, and a leader of argentina's muslim community, omar abboud to join his official delegation for the trip. At one time in front of the western wall he suddenly embraced both of these men together as a powerful sign of brotherly love.
On his arrival in Israel Francis clearly condemned the slaughter of 6 million jews during the holocaust. His voice moved with compassion he said: “never again, lord, never again”. Here we are, lord, shamed by what man—created in your own image and likeness was capable of doing”.
One of the most moving events in that three day pilgrimage was his visit to the yad vashem, the holocaust museum. The pope prayed before the crypt that contains the ashes of the victims of the holocaust. He reverently placed a wreath of yellow and white flowers in the “hall of remembrance”
But as usual with Pope Francis his actions spoke louder than his words. In one of the tenderest moments of the trip, Francis kissed the hands of six holocaust survivors as he listened to their stories.
One man who was born in poland and now lives in canada said he briefly told the pope how he was saved as a boy by catholics who hid him during the holocaust.
He said: "the catholic people who saved me and risked the lives of their whole families to save me, they are looking down today and proud to see me as i meet the leader of their faith”.
At a mass in Bethlehem’s manger square Pope Francis surprised everyone when he spontaneously invited the palestinian leader and the president of Israel to the vatican to pray for a solution to the israeli-palestinian stalemate.
Pope Francis said: “in this, the birthplace of the prince of peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with Israeli President Shimon peers, to join me in heartfelt prayer to god for the gift of peace. I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer.”
A short time later both leaders accepted the invitation and this prayer meeting will take place June 5th at the Vatican.
Pope Francis spent the last morning of his three-day pilgrimage to the holy land, meeting with Muslims and Jews and calling for closer relations among the three major monotheistic religions as the basis for peace in the region.
Three popes had previously visited the holy land: Pope Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
The visit of Pope Francis to the holy land in may, 2014 was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the visit of Pope Paul VI in 1964. During that visit Paul VI met with the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. This was the first time in 500 years that a pope met with the head of the Orthodox Church.
Following up on that meeting of pope Paul VI Pope Francis met in Jerusalem with patriarch Bartholomew, the archbishop of Constantinople, and spiritual leader of over 300 million orthodox Christian faithful worldwide.
Pope Francis spent the last morning of his three-day pilgrimage to the holy land meeting with Muslims and Jews and calling for closer relations among the three major monotheistic religions as the basis for peace in the region…
What Pope Francis said and did during his visit to the holy land will have a profound effect on the church and the world for years to come. We continue to pray for his efforts to bring unity among Christians and peace in the Middle East.