CNEWA
ONE Magazine
God • World • Human Family • Church

On Egg Shells in Jerusalem

Is peace on the roster for the Holy City?

The Holy Sepulchre – what a curious name to occupy such a central place in our religious vocabulary! This designation for the burial place of Jesus echoes through our traditions, especially since the days of the Crusades.

From the beginning it was a holy place. The emperor Constantine built the first great church in Jerusalem to enshrine the tomb. For over 1,600 years that church has been repeatedly destroyed and repaired, but it still stands – a focus of Christian faith, a symbol of the victory of life over death.

That’s why the native Christians of Jerusalem don’t call it the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They look beyond the empty tomb; for them, it is the Church of the Resurrection.

Catholics are so Rome-centered that they sometimes forget that Jerusalem is their true spiritual capital. The mother church of all Christians is the church of Jerusalem. Rome may be where the Church’s head is – Jerusalem holds her heart.

Ironically and sadly, Jerusalem is also a place of division. For centuries Christians there have bitterly contended for power and position. Thanks be to God, that day is past. Symbolically it began to be over that day in 1965 when Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I embraced each other as brothers on the Mount of Olives, not far from where tradition says Jesus looked at Jerusalem and wept.

New divisions still mar the peace of Jerusalem, not only the great ones between Israeli and Palestinian, but, alas, now between Christians and Jews.

While the small square outside the Holy Sepulchre was jammed with pilgrims during Holy Week, around the corner a militant group of Jewish settlers ostentatiously moved into a large hospice belonging to the Greek Orthodox church, but leased to an Armenian businessman.

Apart from the dubious legality of the deal – by which the settlers bought the lease from the Armenian through a Panamanian front corporation with the assistance of the Israeli Housing Ministry – it broke all the unwritten rules.

Life in the old city of Jerusalem is like walking on egg shells – it’s a very delicate matter. Jerusalem has four quarters: Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim. Only Jews may live in the Jewish quarter; customarily the characters of the others are respected.

Jews, like Christians, are not all of one mind. The Jewish settlers in the Christian quarter were making a statement. They espouse a minority opinion that Jerusalem – and all Israel/Palestine – is a Jewish land for Jews only.

Naturally all Christians are alarmed by the implications of this move. So are most Jews. Jerusalem is too near and too dear to Muslim, Christian and Jewish hearts to be exclusively anyone’s. Its name is said to mean “Dwelling of Peace.” May it be so!

Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA

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