Francis and Bartholomew in Prayer at the Tomb
HOLY SEPULCHRE – Fifty years after Paul VI and Athenagoras, and climax of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage, his meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch took place at the foot of the empty tomb of the risen Lord, May 25, 2014. Two thousand years later, Peter and Andrew prayed Jesus own prayer, “That they may be one … that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).
The bells of the Holy Sepulchre are ringing in celebration. The Pope and the Patriarch are expected. They are still at the Apostolic Delegation. Sharing a very warm time of fellowship that lasted longer than expected. There, an agreement was signed. A ten-point joint statement welcoming progress towards unity, encouraging “ever deeper knowledge of the other’s traditions” in search of “the whole truth that Christ has given to his Church” invoking the “urgency of the hour that compels us to seek reconciliation and unity of the human family” including the “situation of Christians in the Middle East.”
Finally, “il Baba” arrives Jaffa Gate. Moments later, the long-awaited hug. Emotion and simplicity. A historic moment, a spark of eternity in the history of the Church and of humanity. Pope and Patriarch advance towards each other and embrace warmly before helping each other down the steps to approach the Holy Sepulchre. Both kneel humbly to kiss the Stone of Unction, the place where the body of Christ was embalmed before burial and located a few meters from the Tomb. The two brothers, Peter and Andrew, are close together at the empty tomb. Meditating before the holiest place in Christendom. The Greek Orthodox choir sang and was soon followed by the Latin choir, accompanied by organ. “Christos Anesti!” “Christ is risen!” exclaimed Francis, Bishop of Rome, in Greek.
Facing the empty tomb of the Lord, Pope Francis recalled “the extraordinary grace to be gathered here in prayer” before the “empty tomb” and stressed that the announcement of the Resurrection is “the foundation of the faith that unites us”. This is the “greatness of our Christian vocation, that we are men and women of resurrection, not death.”
Facing death and resurrection, we are all “Christians” the Pope said. “In the face of death and resurrection, we are all “Christians”, the Pope said. “When Christians of various denominations are found to suffer together, next to each other and helping one another in brotherly love, there is realized an ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism blood (…) . Those who hate the faith and who kill and persecute Christians do not ask them if they are Orthodox or Catholic Christians. Christian blood is the same.”
For his part, Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, facing the Holy Tomb, recalled the words of Genesis 28.17, “how awesome is this place… the gate of heaven”, and that the path of love is “the only path that leads to the fulfillment of the will of the Lord.” Echoing the words of the angel, he repeated “do not be afraid” and invited the congregants “to reject another form of fear which is probably the most common in modern times, namely, the fear of the other, the fear of difference, the fear of a believer of another religion or another confession.”
Great reverence for this celebration without mingling with the crowd. An intimate moment between two Apostles and their Lord, who together returned to the Tomb, have lengthily embraced.
For this great moment of prayer and unity, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew were received by the three superior of the Status Quo communities (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Franciscan), the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, the Custos of Jerusalem, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, and the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch H.B. Nourhan Manoogian. Also present were the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal and the bishops of the Holy Land, the Syrian Archbishop, Archbishop of Ethiopia, the Anglican bishop, the Lutheran bishop and other bishops. A ceremony where Greek and Latin interspersed and reconciled so that a single prayer soared skyward from the Sepulchre.