Monday, May 26, 2014

Holy Land, Home Stretch

In the run-up to this PopeTrip, Rabbi Abraham Skorka often anticipated the moment when "The Pope and I will embrace at the Wailing Wall."

And finally, at 9am (2am ET) local time – with Francis' Argentine Muslim friend Omar Abboud in tow – the scene came to pass (above), followed by this visit's most evocative talk to date: Papa Bergoglio's harrowing reflection on the Holocaust at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial to the 6 million Jews exterminated by the Nazis, which began with a long, shaken pause.

The morning's events now completed, the Vatican livefeed will pick up at 3.30pm Jerusalem time (1430 Rome, 7.30am ET) with the Pope's visit to Patriarch Bartholomew at an Orthodox church on the Mount of Olives....

Following that and a private Mass in the Cenacle – the Upper Room where the Last Supper and Pentecost took place – the Volo Papale is slated to take off shortly after 8pm local.

Still, again, keep in mind that won't be all: with Francis having pledged a press conference to the onboard media after three manically-scheduled days, reports of the Q&A will only emerge once the plane lands at 11pm Rome time (5pm ET). So pace yourselves and – where applicable – brace yourselves.

On two other side-notes: first, while the VatiSpox Fr Federico Lombardi refused "to confirm or deny anything" at a briefing yesterday, reports continue to circulate that Francis' "prayer for peace" (or "Camp Domus Summit") with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, will take place at the Pope's Vatican residence on Friday, 6 June, straddling the Muslim and Jewish Sabbaths.

And secondly, it wouldn't be a stretch to call yesterday the most daring and ambitious moment of Francis' 14-month pontificate. While the stunning peace initiative was the example that's topping global headlines, the other came in the Pope's speech alongside Patriarch Bartholomew in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, when the 265th Successor of Peter sought to "reiterate my hope... 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."

Put bluntly, that means a reform of the papacy – a goal toward which Papa Bergoglio has already garnered very positive attention in the Eastern churches, above all through his wish to realize a Synodal form of governance. On another key front, the Orthodox sensed something big was afoot when, from the moment of his election, Francis depicted his mandate in the terms of the early Eastern doctor St Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote of the Roman See as "presiding in charity" among the churches, as opposed to the modern entity whose occupant holds what canon law terms "full, immediate, universal and ordinary" jurisdiction over the Catholic world.

While Benedict XVI sought to make inroads with the Orthodox by dropping the title "Patriarch of the West" and keeping close ties among the East's various branches as his top ecumenical priority, a rethinking of papal governance wasn't in the cards... at least, until his resignation recast the sense of the office. Of course, whether Francis can succeed where his predecessor didn't would still require something close to the miraculous – after all, the millennium of the Great Schism is but 30 years away. That said, if the Pope keeps prodding Catholicism toward a devolved Petrine ministry in the service of Christian unity, Francis might just find an internal ally as formidable as it'd be astonishing: his critics among church conservatives, who've suddenly soured on a maximal definition of papal power after championing it for nearly four decades.

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