In light of centuries-old property divisions within the Holy Sepulcher, a Vatican journalist who lived in the Holy Land has expressed that locals welcome Pope Francis’ visit as moving in the direction of peace.
“They all long for peace, they long for peace within very crucial situations between Israel and Palestine,” Paul Badde told CNA May 24, adding that although the Pope himself cannot do much in terms of concrete changes “they see it as a step to pray together and they rejoice.”
Badde is the former Rome correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt and lived in Jerusalem for two years prior to his transfer to the Eternal City.
Regarding the Sunday meeting and moment of prayer between Pope Francis and the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartolomeo I, inside of the Holy Sepulcher, the journalist stated that this marks great progress in Orthodox-Catholic relations since such an encounter was banned until 50 years ago.
“Only 50 years ago” the ban “was lifted by Paul VI” Badde observed, “so it’s a very early phase of reconciliation after centuries of deep, deep conflict and rift between east and west” and Pope Francis is “complimenting it, it’s one step more.”
Housing both the tomb of Christ and the site of his crucifixion, the Holy Sepulcher was a source of conflict among varying Christian denominations, including Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Armenians, as to who claimed property rights over the holy sites.
As a solution to the ongoing tensions a “status quo” was implemented during the 17th and 18th centuries to negotiate property rights between Christian communities and the government, which were inseparable at the time. Effectively this “listed what’s who’s” Badde noted.
According to the Franciscan Custody website, a religious order charged with watching over the holy sites, the “status quo,” which is still in effect today, not only determined which sites belong to which tradition, but also the to the times and durations of events and liturgies as well as how they are practiced, whether singing or reading.
Communities who claim rights within the sepulcher include Catholic, Greek, Armenian, Coptic and Syrian Christians. Any change to the schedule requires the consent of all the communities.
“Every minute is precisely clear” Badde observed, noting that although “they have some little debate when some say you have been here too long,” you “will never debate what hour is who’s.”
“All the claims have been discussed and then decided alright this goes to the Catholics, they’re called the Latins here, this to the Greek orthodox, this to the Armenians to avoid any more conflicts” he continued, stating that compared to the past conflicts this separation has been a “beautiful” solution.
“It’s much more problematic if you have the claims overlapping other claims” the journalist said, adding that “if you have two parties say no that’s mine, that’s mine, nobody can say that’s mine,” so “It’s all separate.”
However, despite the sense of peace the current norms of the status quo have brought, local citizens have expressed hope that Pope Francis’ visit further unify the differing Christian communities, allowing open access to the holy sites outside of the status quo time restrictions and divisions of prayer times and locations based on one’s tradition.
Even though the Christian communities “know that the Pope can’t do too much,” they “rejoice” at his presence, especially in “praying with a patriarch” Badde explained, and it gives many people “hope.”