2014-05-22 18:20:00

An exception to the Status Quo: the ecumenical celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

(Vatican Radio) One of the highlights of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Voyage to the Holy Land will be his meeting with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, a meeting that will be followed by a joint ecumenical celebration at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


The ceremony will include representatives of the five Christian communities who maintain an historic presence at the major Christian holy sites – including the Holy Sepulchre. The relations between the Latin (or Catholic) community and the Greek, Armenian, Coptic, and Syrian communities, and between the Christian communities and the local government authorities, are maintained according to an arrangement known as the “status quo.”

“The ‘status quo’ applies principally… to the shrines, four to be exact, that are shared by the various Christian churches here in the Holy Land,” says Father Athanasius Macòra, who monitors the Status Quo agreement for the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. He explained that the Status Quo came about through a decree of the Ottoman Emperor in 1852, which “declared that these shrines should remain in their present state and no change should be effected by any of the Christian communities, or even the government for that matter.” What that means, he says, is that “essentially, no change is allowed.”


Father Macòra says the ecumenical ceremony which will take place during the Pope’s visit to the Holy See is an exception to the Status Quo, made possible by an agreement between the various Christian communities. However, he says, “it’s probably now not as big of an exception as we might think” because both the Custody of the Holy Land (which is responsible for the maintenance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on behalf of the Catholic Church) and the Greek Orthodox Church “want to make sure that this meeting will take place. And therefore, if we’ve come to an agreement, which we have, there’s no problem.”


Although Father Macòra does not expect major changes in the positions of the various Christian communities in the Holy Land in the near future, he remains optimistic. “The channels are open like never before,” he says. “I think things progress very slowly, but the relations are good, and I think the relations may emerge stronger, but I don’t see, for instance, any prospect of union between these Churches for the foreseeable future. I don’t think that’s going to happen. But I think the relations are good, they’re on a positive keel… And this will strengthen that, it won’t hurt it.”


Listen to the full interview of Father Athanasius Macòra of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, speaking with Vatican Radio:

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