2014-05-23 18:35:00

Division and Unity in the Holy Land

(Vatican Radio)  Philippa Hitchen is in the Holy Land to cover the visit of Pope Francis, which begins Saturday.  Below, she describes how the land of Christ affects her, and others - Including members of the other monotheistic faiths.

Listen to Philippa's report:


Each time I return to Jerusalem I’m profoundly struck by the way that people of the three Abrahamic faiths co-exist uneasily here, jostling literally for space in this city sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Each stone and building, each church and cemetery lining the narrow, winding streets of the old city tells a story of how these three faiths have fought over the centuries for control of the holy sites that connect believers with the foundations of their faith.

The Temple Mount, with its Dome of the Rock where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad prayed before beginning his journey up to heaven. Beneath that, the ancient Western Wall of the Temple, where Jews flock to pray and recall the suffering of their people in exile from the Promised Land.

The nearby Via Dolorosa and Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christians relive the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, his Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection from the tomb, where today the different Christian denominations still vie for control of the various parts of the church. Inside the Basilica I met a worried Franciscan friar, who’s been preparing for the papal visit, hoping that everything will go smoothly as Pope Francis meets with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and leaders of the other Christian Churches in a visible sign of the reconciliation that is so desperately needed here.

During his brief visit, the Pope will also meet with Jewish and Islamic leaders too, but not all Jews and Muslims are happy that he’s coming – in fact extremist Jewish groups have been protesting against the visit in the media and through graffiti daubed on church buildings.

So what message can Pope Francis hope to bring to this extremely complex Christian and interfaith context? Jesuit Fr David Neuhaus, who looks after the Hebrew speaking Catholics in Israel, expressed it most concisely when he told me the Pope can show how it is possible to be a man of strong, vibrant faith, yet at the same time utterly open and welcoming to those of other religious beliefs.

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