JERUSALEM – Along with Latin Rite Catholics, Melkite, Maronite, Chaldean, Syriac, Coptic and Armenian Catholics are preparing to welcome the Pope, head of the Catholic Church, to the Holy Land. A visit which at times involves several issues since many bishops take advantage of this trip to make an exceptional visit to their faithful.
Many faithful of the various Catholic Rites in the Holy Land – Latin, Maronite, Melkite, Chaldean, Syriac, Coptic and Armenian – await the arrival of Pope Francis. At the same time, their expectation raises many questions. Will it be possible for them to attend Mass in Bethlehem? Will they have the opportunity to see the Pope, even remotely? Will they find words of encouragement in the various speeches of Pope Francis?
One thing is sure: this visit concerns everyone, and all have given their energy to better prepare for this short but intense weekend during which nobody really has time to draw a breath. Tickets for the Mass of Bethlehem are required, sought, offered, given … This is about the only time all Catholics will be able to meet and pray together, in a liturgy which will be mainly in the Latin rite but which will incorporate elements of each rite, such as the reading of the Gospel in Greek or the performing of songs by choirs from the different churches’ communities.
The Bishops are unanimous. They expect words of comfort and support from the pope. They wish that the voice of Christians will be heard to protect them from exclusion from a society where they are compressed between Jews and Muslims, but also in promoting peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East. A peace that is at once political and religious.
Not only one visit!
The Sovereign Pontiff’s visit is in itself an event that requires a very efficient preparation, which in turn can generate other events. If Melkites are only interested in the Pope, the Maronites will receive, for the first time since the creation of Israel in 1948, the visit of their Patriarch, Cardinal Béchara Raï. What seems most important about his visit? This is a question that has no answer other than a mischievous smile. But the joy of welcoming the Primate of the Maronite Church is very large and of itself requires a great preparation in Jerusalem and Haifa, where Cardinal Raï is scheduled to meet families and parishioners.
Other Catholic churches await the visit of their respective Patriarchs, who will also participate in the Mass in Bethlehem and stand alongside the Pope during his meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. They will also meet their followers who, generally, they see so little.
Non-Latin Catholics will find little time to celebrate the visit of the Pope. But belonging to minority rites in the Catholic Church, the visits of their respective Patriarchs probably holds greater personal interest, and which they will treasure more extensively.
Pierre Loup de Raucourt