Rome’s winter wonderland of this morning is no longer – the sun came out and melted what it could! However, the memories of this beautiful interlude will linger for a long time!  One of my first thoughts this morning was of the children who were possibly seeing snow for the first time  – the last snowfall here was in February 2012!


Pope Francis made some new appointments on Monday, elevating to the rank of archbishop two prelates who have served in the Vatican for many years, Msgrs. Alfred Xuereb and Jose Bettencourt.

Portuguese Msgr. José Avelino Bettencourt, currently the chief of protocol at the Secretariat of State, has been named titular Archbishop of Cittanova and raised to the office of apostolic nuncio. He was ordained a priest in 1993 and entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service in 1999, serving in the nunciature of the Democratic Republic of Congo before coming to work in the Secretariat of State in 2012. Msgr. Bettencourt speaks English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

Pope Francis also raised Maltese Msgr. Alfred Xuereb to the rank of archbishop and named him as apostolic nuncio to Korea and Mongolia. Born on the island of Gozo in 1958, Mgr. Xuereb was ordained in 1984 and began working in the secretariat of the Pontifical Lateran University in 1991. He started his service in the Vatican Secretariat of State in 1995, before transferring to the Pontifical Household in November 2000.

He returned to the Secretariat of State, serving as secretary to Pope Benedict XVI from 2007 and then to Pope Francis from his election in March 2013. In November that year, he was named as delegate on the Pontifical Commissions for both the Vatican bank (Institute for Works of Religion) and the re-organization of the economic structures of the Holy See and in March 2014 he was appointed as Secretary General of the Secretariat for the Economy.


JERUSALEM (CNS) — Protesting several recent actions they described as a “systematic campaign … against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land,” the heads of Christian churches announced Feb. 25 they were closing of the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for an undisclosed period of time.

(CNS photo/Baz Ratner, Reuters)Bewildered pilgrims milled around the square in front of the church as Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III — flanked by Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian — read a short statement to the press. At the same time, the only two people allowed to close the doors — the Muslim custodian of the key, AdeebJawad JoudehAl Husseini, and Muslim door keeper Wajeeh Nuseibeh — closed and locked the doors.

“This systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land severely violates the most basic … and sovereign rights, trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian community and the authorities for decades,” the heads of churches said in their statement.

The church leaders were protesting the Jerusalem municipality’s intention to impose property taxes on church property, such as hotels and convention centers, not used for worship purposes. The proposal to levy taxes on some properties would run contrary to the unofficial historical tax-exempt status the churches have enjoyed for centuries.

In addition, the church leaders said they oppose a bill in the Israeli parliament that would limit the ability to sell church-owned land to private owners. The bill, whose vote was postponed following the church protest, would be specifically detrimental to the Greek Orthodox Church, which owns large tracts of land in central Jerusalem upon which many private homes are built; many of those 99-year-old building rental contracts will soon expire. The church already has sold some of the land to private owners, and homeowners whose apartments are on the land worry about losing their homes.

Rachel Azaria, the member of Parliament who sponsored the bill, said it is not meant to affect what the church can do with its property, but what happens when the land rights are sold to a third party.

As media gathered to hear the church leaders, pilgrims wandered around the church square, some kneeling in front of the massive wooden doors — the closest they would come to entering the church.

“We had one shot,” said Flavia Falcone, 25, an Italian Catholic living in Poland, who had come to Israel for four days. “This was a bad decision. Faith and politics are two different things. I came here all this way to see the church and I find it closed. It is not very pleasant.”

It is only the second time the doors to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher have been closed in the middle of the day, other than for traditional religious ceremonies. The other time was 20 years ago, when a visitor to the church began taking down crosses and candles, said Nuseibeh.

The church leaders said taxing commercial properties decreases revenues for the church’s good works and breaches “existing agreements and international obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the churches, in what seems as attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem.”

“The greatest victims in this are those impoverished families who will go without food and housing, as well as the children who will be unable to attend school,” they said.

In early February, the Jerusalem municipality announced it would begin collecting $186.4 million in property taxes from some 887 church-owned properties that were not houses of prayer.

Patriarch Theophilos has traveled to meet world leaders, including Pope Francis, on the legislative issue.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat went on social media in response to the Feb. 25 protest, clarifying that there was no intention to tax places of worship, but rather church businesses such as hotels and conference halls.

“Commercial buildings are not exempt from municipal taxes regardless of their ownership,” he said. He noted that, by not taxing commercial properties owned by churches, Jerusalem residents were missing out on revenue.

“We will no longer require Jerusalem’s residents to bear or subsidize this huge debt,” he said in a tweet, assuring that — like all churches, synagogues and mosques — the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was exempt from municipal taxes.


A statement from the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Amman, Jordan: http://en.abouna.org/en/content/jordan-ccsm-advisory-council-calls-revoking-decision-impose-taxes-jerusalem-churches

The Advisory Council of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media (CCSM) in Jordan has followed with great concern the statement of the Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem, in which it announced the imposition of property taxes (known as arnona) on churches as well as the seizure of church properties and bank accounts on the pretext of non-payment of tax on land property.

In light of these fateful developments, the Advisory Council of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Jordan declares its categorical rejection of the relevant Israeli steps, since they are incompatible with the historical position of the Churches in the Holy City and with their relations with the civil authorities. The Churches have been exempted from paying taxes over centuries. The civil authorities have always respected the great role played by Christian churches which serves local communities through their hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects and initiatives that are spent on building schools, hospitals, homes and charities. Many of the projects are dedicated to serve the elderly, the people with special needs, as well as the needy and poor families.

The Advisory Council affirms that such decisions will undermine the sacred character of Jerusalem and its inclusive identity, debilitate the Churches’ endeavors to fulfill their role and mission in the Holy Land, jeopardize their role, and put more pressure on Christians in Jerusalem and the Holy Land which ultimately threatens their historic and deep-rooted presence.

NOTE FROM JOAN: King Abdullah of Jordan, considered “Guardian and Custodian of the Christian and Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem,” provided a great part of the monies for the recent restoration of the church of the Holy Sepulchre out of his personal money. Restoration was finished in 2017. The holy places were, until the Six-Day war of 1967, under Jordanian sovereignty. If you are a history buff, you will want to read this piece: http://orthochristian.com/92374.html