Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Peter and Andrew" Again... And Now, A Rabbi and A Muslim – In the Holy Land, Francis' Ark

While the triple "minefields" of geopolitics, interfaith relations and safety concerns have seen no shortage of ink spilled – or, these days, more like a flood of pixels – across the globe in the run-up to this weekend's PopeTrip to the Holy Land, it's fitting that the starkest reminder of the tensions into which Francis wades comes from the visit's climactic point.

After yesterday's arrest of two Jews for hanging posters urging the Pope not to come to Jerusalem, the city's Post summarized the mood by saying that "the city braced itself for a security feat" in advance of Papa Bergoglio's touchdown tomorrow night. For a place all too accustomed to lockdowns and heightened caution, it's no mean assessment.

With every detail of the trip – from the Holy See's references to the "State of Palestine" to Francis' decision to make the journey with his chief Muslim and Jewish collaborators from Argentina, and beyond – subjected to intense public scrutiny, the Volo Papale is slated to touch down in Amman at 1pm local time (6am ET, Roman Noon). After the diplomatic formalities with Jordan's King Abdullah and his government, the day's centerpiece event will be a 4pm Mass at the capital's 25,000 seat International Stadium.

Given the security issues, which Francis has exacerbated by his insistence on not using an armored vehicle during the trip, the Amman liturgy is slated to be the largest event of the 55-hour pilgrimage, and only one of two public events, the other coming tomorrow with Mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square (the rather unique mural backdrop for which is shown below).

Following the Jordan Mass, Francis will meet with a group of refugees – the first of two such encounters scheduled.

As the trip's principal purpose is to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting of the soon-to-be Blessed Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, the sitting successor of St Andrew – Patriarch Bartholomew – arrived in Jerusalem yesterday and will meet with Francis both tomorrow night and on Monday. Yet even as the duo will imitate their predecessors in leading a joint service in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the Catholic world's progress since 1964 in building ecumenical and interfaith bridges is even more potently seen in the joint presence of "The Pope's Rabbi" – the Argentine Jewish seminary rector Abraham Skorka – and Omar Amed Abboud, the secretary-general of Islam's interreligious dialogue in Francis' homeland.

With the duo said to be the first-ever leaders of other faiths to be part of a Pope's traveling party, it bears reminding that this visit's first announcement wasn't made by the Holy See, but by Skorka – Bergoglio's onetime co-author – who Francis sent out to tell reporters during a stay at the Domus last fall that he and the pontiff would be making the trip. Among the Vatican part of the entourage, Cardinal Edwin O'Brien – the New York-born head of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre – is the lone American of the five red-hats accompanying the Pope; the others are the Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin; the Interfaith Dialogue Czar Jean-Louis Tauran; the head of the desks for Christian Unity and Relations with Jews Kurt Koch, and Leonardo Sandri (likewise an Argentine), the prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

Notably, three of the five are distinguished veterans of Vatican diplomacy and accordingly well-steeped on the nuances at hand. On the eve of the trip, however, Parolin made some early waves with a plea on behalf of the shrinking number of Christians on Jesus' home-turf, warning that the Holy Sites risked becoming "museums" without the "living stones" of a Christian presence.

The full schedule and Missal for the liturgies are available; the latter is a curious mix of Arabic, Latin, Greek and Italian. As Francis is slated to deliver some 15 texts, however, only the major ones among them will publish in the prime page here – not all will have the same significance, and it'd simply be excessive. So to find all the texts and whatever other details don't make the cut in the main, again, keep an eye on Page Three (down your right sidebar), which'll keep the raw feed going in real-time.

For those in the States, meanwhile, hope a safe, restful and Happy Memorial Weekend is already underway for one and all – at least, except here. Still, welcome to what's going to be another eventful summer... and with that, away we go.