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The Patriarch of Jerusalem

Sept. 12: We began our second full day with a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem. The city is divided and the historical districts were pointed out to us. It was only a year or two ago that Palestinians and Israelis felt secure walking through each other’s territories, at least during the day. That has ended as recent months have seen increasing violence and fear on both sides.

One of the most challenging moments of a very full day was visiting “the wall,” which runs through the Palestinian section of Jerusalem, effectively severing 300,000 Palestinians from their family members, terminating employment for them, commerce, etc. While no credible person questions Israel’s right to security, it nevertheless should be recalled that the United Nations condemned Israel’s building of the wall, and the general consensus is that the devastation and resentment it caused has only (and greatly) deepened the enmity of those good people who are walled off from much of what was their life. It is a gaping wound in the Holy City. It has not increased peace.

From there we visited the Patriarchate of Jerusalem — a patriarchate is like a diocese but headed by a patriarch, in this instance, His Beatitude Fouad Twal. He spoke movingly of our brother and sister Catholics under his care and the desperate efforts of his clergy and people not only to provide sacramental life but also, in many instances, basic social services. Their main mission is to run a great many schools in Palestine, Jerusalem and Jordan — schools which are open to children of all faiths. In some instances certain schools have more non-Catholics than Catholics. The good will, understanding and sense of universal brotherhood being fostered is their great hope for a better future. Incidentally, I have been a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre for many years. Knights and Ladies who make pilgrimage to Jerusalem receive the formal “pilgrim’s shell.” I was deeply honored to receive it from the patriarch himself. The Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre provide much of the funding of the patriarchate and its schools. It’s an exceptional order in the Church.

After lunch we met with the “custos” (custodian) of the Holy Sites of the Holy Land. For almost two centuries the churches and sites here have been entrusted to the Franciscan Order. The custos had exceptional insights into the pilgrimage sites as well as the general situation unfolding. He, along with the patriarch, would seem to concur that we are going through a time of great suffering. Everyone’s efforts to achieve a two-state solution are greatly needed.

Late in the afternoon we attended a Sabbath service in a reformed synagogue and met some wonderful parishioners there. It helps to immerse oneself in the culture from as many perspectives as possible. Over dinner we had a presentation from Michael Ratney, the U.S. consul general for Jerusalem. He has been in office here for two years (the 50th consul general from the U.S. — a long history). His understanding of the politics as they are unfolding and America’s role confirmed much of what we have learned from the senior religious authorities.

In essence, the two-state solution, which is endorsed strongly by the Holy See and the U.S government, is probably the only realistic hope for a lasting peace built on any semblance of justice. But as Israeli settlements are continuing to be built on Palestinian land, the window of opportunity seems to be slowly shutting. The Holy Land, and the world, needs the two-state solution to happen. One of our best speakers today noted — after decades of living here — that the uneasy coexistence of Jews, Christians and Muslims was really what Jerusalem was all about. Hearing an Imam chant prayers as Orthodox Jews visit the Western Wall and Christians are making the “Way of the Cross” — all that blended together is what this city is all about. To think that two of the world’s great religions can be removed or relegated to museum-like insignificance is not realistic. Renewed efforts for a peaceful coexistence are necessary, and fortunately there are men and women of good will in all three religious groups who see this truth. The key is not letting their good efforts be sabotaged by those who refuse the notion of coexistence in peace.

Prayer. Prayer leads to hope. Hope makes it possible to envision other/better possibilities.

For those interested, a little history on the Jerusalem Patriarchate and His Beatitude, Patriarch Fouad Twal. His Beatitude, Fouad Twal, is a man of great devotion and faith. He was born in Jordan, entering the seminary in 1959 and being ordained a priest of the Latin Patriarchate in 1966. He obtained his doctorate in canon law in 1976 and began working in the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1977. He then served in the Vatican’s diplomatic posts in Honduras, Cairo, Berlin and Lima until 1992 when he was appointed Bishop of Tunis. He then succeeded Patriarch Michel Sabbah as Patriarch of Jerusalem, only the second Arab Patriarch since the office was reestablished in 1847.

The title “patriarch” is not common to our vocabulary. The term “patriarch” refers to the father or chief of a clan, family or race. The word is found throughout Scripture as well as in secular texts. By the eighth and ninth centuries the word became a formal title, signifying a rank in the hierarchy. It was the patriarchs who watched over the metropolitans (commonly referred to as archbishops), just as the metropolitans watched over the bishops of the dioceses in their region. In the Western world it was viewed as the rank immediately below the bishop of Rome.

It might interest some to note that in the earliest centuries of the Church there were five great patriarchs found in the following centers of civilization and faith: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. While it is greatly oversimplifying very complex matters, I would note that the relationship between the patriarch of Rome and the other four patriarchs was a major part of what resulted in the division between the Roman Catholic (Latin) Church and the “Orthodox” Church.

In looking specifically at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, we must begin by noting that the Church of Jerusalem came to life on the day of Pentecost. It was recognized as a patriarchate by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. There was relative harmony until 1054 when the Churches of the East (Orthodox) and those of the West (Latin/Roman Catholic) separated from one another. When the Crusaders arrived in 1099, the Greek Patriarch Simon fled to Cyprus, leaving the See of Jerusalem vacant. The Crusaders installed one of their own as the first Latin Patriarch, a situation that remained somewhat stable until 1187 when Jerusalem fell to Saladin. It was actually 1847 before the Latin Patriarch was restored by Pope Pius IX, who sent Patriarch Giuseppe Valerga to Jerusalem as Latin Patriarch in 1848.

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