Archive of May 6, 2004

Israeli press says Catholic Church will take custody of Upper Room

Jerusalem, Israel, May 6, 2004 (CNA) - The Tel Aviv daily Maariv has published a report which, if confirmed, would signify a major milestone in the history of Christianity. Within a few months the state of Israel may grant custody of the Upper Room, where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his apostles, to the Catholic Church.

The EFE News Agency published a version of the story, quoting sources within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and claiming the eventual agreement between Israeli authorities and the Holy See would be part of “extensive negotiations to resolve other problems, including residencies for Church personnel, who in many cases recently have run into obstacles from the Interior Ministry in the obtaining of visas.”

Maariv quoted an anonymous government official who said “this time it seems that the intention of the government is set out on a new path with the Holy See.”

Maariv cites “Christian sources” which claim the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, Obed Ben Hur, and representatives of the Holy See, could reach an agreement before the end of the year.

As of today’s date, neither the Holy See nor the Israeli government have confirmed or denied the report.

The Upper Room

The history behind the building in which the Upper Room is located reflects the complex history of the region.  During the Middle Ages, the Franciscans made it their first monastery in the Holy Land, but they were expelled by the Ottomans in 1551.  They in turn built a mosque in the area, saying it was the site of the tomb of King David, who Moslems consider a prophet.

A niche that indicates the way to Mecca is still there from when it was mosque.

Later the building was acquired by an Arabic family until in 1967 it was seized by the Israeli Ministry of Worship.  Currently it houses a Jewish school and a synagogue.

For the Church the building has an incomparable importance, as it was the place where the priesthood and the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance were instituted.  Historically the Popes have believed that “if there is a place in this world where the Mass should be celebrated it is in the Upper Room.”

The title in Latin for the place where Christ met with his apostles on Holy Thursday, "Coenaculum" (“Cenacle” in English), means the place for supper, but in general refers to the upper room that was used for hospitality for guests.  Today the room is a chapel.

The Christian tradition concerning the authenticity of the Upper Room goes back to the 3rd century.   A chapel dedicated to the washing of feet is also located nearby.  The Franciscan cloister of 1335 leads to the Shoah Museum, in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Mass in the Upper Room

In 2000, Pope John Paul II visited the Holy Land and in one of the most anticipated moments of his pilgrimage, he celebrated a private Mass in the Upper Room.  Until the papal visit, only personal prayers were allowed to take place in the Upper Room.

Not even Paul VI, who visited the chapel and prayed in private, was able to celebrate Mass.  

Previous versions

That year, shortly after the Pope celebrated his historic Mass in the place of the Last Supper, various international media outlets reported that supposed negotiations on the custody of the Upper Room had begun.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported then that the Vatican would obtain custody with the condition that the historic church of Santa Maria la Blanca in Toledo, Spain, would be given to the Jews.  The church had been a synagogue until Ferdinand and Isabel seized it from the Jewish community.

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Pope to U.S. Bishops: Encourage a spirituality of communion and mission.

Vatican City, May 6, 2004 (CNA) - This morning the Holy Father met with twenty U.S. bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Detroit and Cincinnati on their ‘ad limina’ visit, and continued his reflections on the connection betweent the ‘munus sanctificandi’ and the spirituality of communion and mission.

John Paul II proceeded to explain the link between the Church’s unity and holiness. "Like her holiness, the Church's unity is an unfailing gift of God and a constant summons to an ever more perfect communion in faith, hope and love," he said. "The Church lives and carries out her saving mission as 'one body', which the Holy Spirit guides in the way of all truth. This close relationship between the Church's holiness and her unity is the basis for that spirituality of communion and mission which I am convinced we must foster at the dawn of this new millennium.” The Pope underscored that “the Bishop, as the icon of Christ the Good Shepherd, present in the midst of his holy people, has the primary duty of promoting and encouraging such a spirituality."

He called on the bishops to personally exemplify this spirituality of communion, which will naturally lead to a “pastoral style which is ever more open to collaboration with all,” and demands a closer relationship with his priests. The bishops should relate to priests “as a father and brother who loves them, listens to them, welcomes them, corrects them, supports them, seeks their cooperation and, as much as possible, is concerned for their human, spiritual, ministerial and financial well-being,” said the Pope. He also acknowledged and praised the work of committed priests in the U.S “especially those engaged in meeting the daily challenges and demands associated with parish ministry.”

The Holy Father then said a few words on the bishop’s responsibility towards seminaries which they should visit frequently to ensure that they "form mature and balanced personalities, men capable of establishing sound human and pastoral relationships, knowledgeable in theology, solid in the spiritual life, and in love with the Church."

The Pope urged the bishops to ensure that seminaries provide a “continuing personal formation aimed at deepening and harmonizing the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral aspects of their priestly life," in which formation in chastity and celibacy are essential and a correct theological understanding of the Church and priesthood. They must also understand clearly and precisely those positions that are “not compatible with the Church's authoritative self-understanding as expressed by the Council and the documents of the post-conciliar renewal.”

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“Always be faithful” to “service to the Successor of Peter,” Pope to Swiss Guard

Vatican City, May 6, 2004 (CNA) - This morning the Holy Father received the 33 new members of the Swiss Guard to be sworn in this afternoon. He expressed his gratitude for their “service to the Successor of Peter.” He noted that the commitment of the Swiss Guard is demanding and “perhaps sometimes tiresome” but will be rewarded by God.

The Pope spoke in German, French and Italian, and exhorted the soldiers to "always be faithful to your mission, carefully cultivating the ideal of love for Christ and the Church which your families and Christian communities in Switzerland strive to constantly nourish.”

He asked for their prayers and spiritual support for his upcoming trip to Switzerland on June 5-6, where he will meet with Swiss youth and also former members of the Swiss Guard.

The Holy Father expressed his hope that the “humble service” of the Swiss Guard will be a witness that stimulates those who encounter them, members of the Roman Curia and pilgrims, to be stimulated to embrace the true meaning of our life: to
discover and make known God's love for each one of us!"

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Pro-abortion governor decides not to receive Communion in public

Trenton, N.J., May 6, 2004 (CNA) - Gov. James E. McGreevey said yesterday he respectfully disagrees with Newark Archbishop John J. Myers but he will honor the bishop’s request and not receive Communion in public, reported the Associated Press.

The pro-abortion governor was responding to a statement, issued by the archbishop earlier yesterday, which said abortion rights supporters should not seek Communion when they attend mass.

The governor refused to say if he would receive the sacrament from a priest in private, calling that a personal decision.

McGreevey said he is committed to both his Catholic faith and his pro-abortion stance and believes strongly in the separation of church and state.

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Same-sex marriage takes society in ‘wrong direction’, says archbishop

Sydney, Australia, May 6, 2004 (CNA) - The marriage debate in Australia has picked up momentum and the Catholic Church has come out on the defense of the institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

In a statement Tuesday, Archbishop George Pell of Sydney said it is not discrimination to say that same-sex marriage will take society in the wrong direction.

He added that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples is “a worthwhile reinforcement of traditional marriage as the basic building block of society.”

He added that the government's amendments to the 1961 Marriage Act deserve bipartisan support, “for the good of all Australians.”

Legalizing same-sex marriage would weaken significantly the place of traditional marriage in society and “bring with it instability and further confusion,” he said.

“The benefits and advantages of traditional marriage are not a matter of interpretation, opinion or religious belief. They are matters of hard fact, as evidenced by decades of international research,” said the archbishop, citing a long list of findings.

“Apart from the greater chance of happiness which marriage brings to parents and children, it helps to reduce social problems, especially among the young, and so the need for welfare, health, police and prison services,” he argued.

While his comments were not intended to “condemn devoted parents in situations other than marriage, single parents, often heroic, and de facto couples …the reality is, generally, married couples and children – and society – do better,” the bishop said.

“This is why governments should support traditional marriage over other types of relationships and protect it from being undermined by measures such as same-sex marriage,” and encourage natural parents to found their families in marriage, the bishop argued.

“Allowing same-sex couples to marry would worsen the situation of the family in Australia, not help it. It would erode traditional marriage as the norm for most men and women, and raise difficult dilemmas in relation to issues such as the adoption of children,” who, he said, have a right to a mother and father.

“It is not discrimination to say that same-sex marriage takes us in the wrong direction,” he said.

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Canada passes law that groups fear could silence religious expression

Ottawa, Canada, May 6, 2004 (CNA) - A bill that religious groups fear could brand the Bible as hate literature and silence religious expression was passed by the Canadian government last week.

The Canadian Senate passed Bill C-250 April 28 by a vote of 59-11. The passage of the bill added homosexuals to the list of groups protected under Canada’s Criminal code. The bill extends hate-crime protections to homosexuals by including “sexual orientation” among the identifiable groups, which before only included groups that were distinguished by race, color, religion, or ethnic origin.

The bill was passed despite opposition expressed by several religious and family groups, including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Focus on the Family and the Canada Family Action Coalition.

In addition, thousands of Canadians attended a full-day rally on Parliament Hill on April 17 to express their opposition to the bill.

Despite this public display of opposition, the Senate still passed the bill. The Liberal government wanted the bill passed before the next federal election, which parliamentarians expect will be called in May. The bill would have died had it not been passed before the election was called.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada now fears that the legislation will jeopardize freedom of speech and religious expression.

“Christians have seen their rights to dissent restricted by case after case in the courts,” said Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in a written statement. “We no longer trust that the guarantee of religious freedom in the Charter is necessarily going to apply to protect religious free speech.”

Dr. Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, is urging Canadians not to vote for members of Parliament who supported this new law in the next federal election. The bill, said McVety, was passed just in time to silence public debate on same-sex marriage during the upcoming election campaign.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment on the passage of the bill. The bishops had presented a letter to all senators March 25, expressing their concern. The letter stated: “We remain concerned that this Bill as presently drafted could be used in an attempt to silence Church teaching in this regard.”

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