Patriarch Twal makes the announcement; Koch in Moscow meets Kirill

Latin-rite Patriarch Faoud Twal of Jerusalem yesterday confirmed that Pope Francis does plan to visit the Holy Land in May.

But the present schedule of the two-day trip — the shortest by a Pope in modern times — has disappointed Israeli authorities, an Israeli newspaper is reporting. Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in Jordan and in Bethlehem, in the territory of the Palestinian Authority, but not in Jerusalem, in the territory of Israel, the paper reports:


Catholic pontiff’s truncated trip dashes hope of believers expecting papal-led Mass in Jerusalem

headlined the Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot today.

Israeli officials ask Vatican to reconsider holding service only in Bethlehem.


The paper said the Pope’s trip will last “less than 48 hours, as the Roman pontiff will arrive in the morning hours on Sunday and leave the following night.”


Noting that “this will be Francis’ first visit to Israel, and his first visit outside the Vatican – aside from a trip to Brazil which was scheduled by his predecessor,” the paper observes that “the visit to the Jewish State is essentially the first one initiated by Francis, though there is much disappointment in Israel because of the brief nature of his stay.”


The Pope will tour Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, but will not visit Christian sites in northern Israel, unlike previous Popes, the paper said.


“To the disappointment of many, Pope Francis will not host Mass for believers within Israel,” the paper said. “The plan to host Mass in Jerusalem was cancelled because of the short nature of the visit. However, the Pope will host a large Mass in Bethlehem – the headline event of his trip to the Holy Land.” And here the paper draws a conclusion: “The Palestinian Authority will be the main beneficiary, as it will gain international prominence,” the paper said. “In Israel, officials are still hoping the Vatican will reconsider its decision and have the Pope host a second Mass within the country.”


The paper concludes: “Pope Francis’ trip will be significantly shorter than the two past visits by a leader of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II visited the holy land for 6 days, holding Mass in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem during his 2000 trip. Pope Benedict XVI stayed in Israel for 5 days in 2009.” (link)



Pope Francis: Humility necessary for fruitfulness

In his homily at daily Mass in the Domus Santa Marta this morning, Pope Francis spoke about how God can bring new life even in situations of sterility.

Often in the Bible we find women who are sterile, to whom the Lord gives the gift of life, the Pope said.


Francis then reflected on the story of Elizabeth, who was sterile but who had a son – John. “From the impossibility of giving life,” the Pope said, “comes life.” And this, he continued, happened not only for sterile women but to those “who had no hope of life,” such as Naomi, who eventually had a grandson:

“The Lord intervened in the life of this woman to tell us: ‘I am capable of giving life.’ In the Prophets too there is the image of the desert, the desert land that cannot grow a tree, a fruit, to bring forth anything. ‘But the desert will be like a forest,’ the Prophets say… But can the desert flower? Yes. Can the sterile woman give life? Yes. The promise of the Lord: ‘I can!’ From dryness, from your dryness I can make life, salvation grow. From aridity I can make fruit grow!”

He warned that we cannot do this by ourselves. Still, the Pope said, many people have tried to imagine that we are capable of saving ourselves:

“Even Christians, eh? We think of the Pelagians for example.


“All is grace. And it is the intervention of God that brings us salvation. It is the intervention of God that helps us along the path of sanctity. Only He can do it.


“But what are we to do on our part? First, recognize our dryness, our incapacity to give life. Recognize this.


“Second, ask: ‘Lord, I want to be fruitful.’ I desire that my life should give life, that my faith should be fruitful and go forward and be able to give it to others. Lord, I am sterile, I can’t do it. You can. I am a desert: I can’t do it. You can.” (link)



Meanwhile, in Moscow…

Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Holy See’s Council for Promoting Christian Unity, met yesterday with Patriarch Kirill in Moscow.

Here is a report on the meeting, from a Russian Orthodox news agency:

Moscow, December 19, Interfax – Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has expressed support for many of Pope Francis’ views.

“We pin great expectations on the election of Pope Francis because much of what the Pope formulates today and suggests for the church and the world and society coincides with our vision,” Patriarch Kirill said at a meeting (yesterday) with the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, in Moscow.

“In the positions of the bishop of Rome [pope] and the patriarch of Moscow there is a lot in common as regards issues that are sources of concern for many people,” he (Koch) said. As examples of such concurrence, he cited the two churches’ positions on persecutions of Christians in the Middle East and family affairs.

He said dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic churches is essential today.


Cardinal Koch passed Patriarch Kirill oral greetings from Pope Francis.

The cardinal said the family institution is in a deep crisis and that it is “just one indication that other Christian values don’t mean much to the world either.”

“We speak about the fundamental right to live while others speak about the right to abortion. Those are very big contradictions,” he said.

He thanked Patriarch Kirill for sharing the Vatican’s assessments of the situation in Syria and for visiting the country in November 2011.

Also on Wednesday, Koch met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Meshkov and discussed relations between the Vatican and Russia with him.

Last month three other senior Vatican officials visited Moscow — Cardinal Paul Poupard, former president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. (link)



Pope to Visit Portugal in 2017?


A Portuguese website today reported that Pope Francis intends to visit Portugal in 2017.


Francis is said to have confided his plans to a Portuguese woman who visited him recently.


If Francis does go to Portugal in 2017, it will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the appearances of Mary in Fatima, in 1917. (link)

Editor’s Note: I wanted to thank the “Founding Members” of our “Urbi et Orbi Foundation,” aimed at working to improve relations between Catholics and Orthodox. We seek further support. –Robert Moynihan

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