For those who have been following events in the Holy Land and the fact that the doors of the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre were closed by religious leaders to protest a proposed tax on Church properties by the Israeli government: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre reopened early Wednesday morning after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became personally involved and stopped measures.

“We, the heads of Churches in charge of the Holy Sepulchre and the status quo governing the various Christian holy sites in Jerusalem – the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custodian of the Holy Land and the Armenian Patriarchate – give thanks to God for the statement released earlier today by Prime Minister Netanyahu and offer our gratitude to all those who have worked tirelessly to uphold the Christian presence in Jerusalem and to defend the status quo,” the leaders of the three denominations in charge of the site said in a statement.

Among those urging leaders to reconsider this proposal, citing the potential damage to the Christian populace, was Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher.


Pope Francis’ general audience was originally scheduled to take place today in St. Peter’s Square but, given the frigid temperatures, the faithful were accompanied to both St. Peter’s Basilica, where the Holy Father stopped briefly, greeting people and shaking hands, and then in the Paul VI Hall where the main body of his catechesis took place.

Continuing his weekly general audience catechesis on the Mass, Pope Francis today highlighted the Liturgy of the Eucharist that begins, he said, with the “preparation of the gifts of bread and wine,” a rite that “invites us to present our own lives as a spiritual offering.”

“In our catechesis on the Mass, we now turn from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Following the Lord’s command at the Last Supper to ‘do this in memory of me’, the Church at every Mass makes sacramentally present the sacrifice of the New Covenant sealed by Jesus on the altar of the cross. The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the Preparation of the Gifts of bread and wine that will then be consecrated in the Eucharistic Prayer and received by the faithful in Holy Communion.

“The rite of the Preparation of the Gifts invites us to present our own lives as a spiritual offering together with the gifts we bring to the altar. The Prayer that concludes this rite voices our confidence that the Church’s offering will be transformed by the Holy Spirit and become a sacrifice pleasing to the Father, in union with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.”

Francis said that, “through the holy signs, the Church renders ever present the Sacrifice of the new covenant sealed by Jesus on the altar of the Cross. (The Cross) was the first Christian altar, (and) when we approach the altar our memory goes to that first altar. …. The priest, who in the Mass represents Christ, does what the Lord himself did and entrusted to the disciples at the Last Supper: He took the bread and the cup, gave thanks, gave them to the disciples, saying: ‘Take, eat … drink: this is my body … this is the cup of my blood. Do this in memory of me’. Obedient to the command of Jesus, the Church has arranged the Eucharistic Liturgy in moments that correspond to the words and gestures He made on the eve of his Passion.”

“At every Mass,” concluded the Pope, “may we experience the Preparation of the Gifts as an invitation to offer our lives completely to the Lord, in order to receive from him the grace to live ever more fully our vocation to grow in holiness and to serve the coming of his Kingdom.”


In his greetings to pilgrims and visitors from Syria, the Holy Land and the Middle East at the general audience, Pope Francis improvised yet another appeal for what he called that “martyred nation,” saying, “We must pray for these brothers and sisters of ours and for all persecuted Christians, they want to drive them away.”

Although the United Nations Security Council has called for a ceasefire in order to allow humanitarian aid to reach the most affected areas, reports from Syria claim that fighting is continuing despite the truce.


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:

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:


What a fascinating story by John Burger and posted in Aleteia!  You will wonder if you saw this and did not know what it was if you’ve been to the basilica or perhaps you are in the Holy Land now and hope to see this…..


Stone long used for tourist graffiti now thought to be Crusader artifact.
Greek workers and Israeli researchers may have discovered an ancient altar in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And it has been “hiding in plain sight” for centuries.

“Leaning against a wall in a shadowy corner of Jerusalem’s [Church of the] Holy Sepulchre, the big blank rock the size of a dining-room table invited scribbling by passing pilgrims and tourists,” said Smithsonian magazine, noting that the piece was known to tourists as the “graffiti stone.”

The altar may have continued to go unnoticed were it know for work in recent years in shoring up the Edicule, also spelled Aedicule, the church-within-a-church protecting the site of Jesus Christ’s burial.

A Greek team of engineers and architects recently restored the Aedicule, which had long been in danger of collapse. In the course of the effort, the construction crew used a crane to lift a two-ton block, referred to as the “graffiti stone” after visitors’ penchant for leaving their mark on it, into a steel cradle, turning it around in the process but relegating it to another dark corner.

Amit Re’em of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, who was monitoring the renovation, noticed intricate circles carved into the limestone “with traces of marble and the rich red stone called porphyry. This was no tourist graffiti. Re’em, who specializes in medieval archaeology, dashed of to a Jerusalem library to look for evidence of other stones with similar decorations.

Along with historian Ilya Berkovich at Munich’s Ludwig Maximillian University, Re’em “tracked the geometric pattern on the stone’s design to a style popular in Rome in the 12th century,” the magazine reported. “The use of four circles surrounding a central circle, all richly inlaid, was the trademark design of the Cosmati family, Roman artisans who worked for the pope.”

The stone’s design “symbolized the power, both temporal and spiritual, that the Papacy achieved during the 12th century,” writes art historian and New York architect Paloma Pajares-Ayuela in the definitive book on the style. That suggested the stone was carved and inlaid when the Crusaders rebuilt the church.

“I think that this exquisite piece of art could be evidence for the papal artistic patronage in the church,” Re’em says. “It is proof that Crusader art was highly developed” and reflects the direct influence of Rome on the distant Jerusalem shrine. Papal craftsmen may have been directly involved in the work, he suggested.

Re’em believes the altar was used for Mass until a fire in the church in 1808. Then it was buried under a new floor. Greek archaeologists in 1969 began excavating in the nave and under the main altar east of the Edicule. Results of that work were never made public, but a Catholic priest realized that the Greek team found Crusader-era remains at that time. “Some were covered up, but others, including the rectangular panel examined by Re’em, were removed so that the researchers could access material from the earlier Byzantine era,” the magazine said.

If the stone does turn out to be something that was set up by the Crusaders, it will remind the various communities that call the church home of the sometimes sad history of division that has marked Christianity’s holiest site.

The Crusaders were trying to reclaim lands that had been taken over by Muslim invaders, but they also regarded the local Greek clergy as heretics (the Great Schism had occurred only decades early), and ejected the Orthodox priests from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Smithsonian reminded readers that Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Copts, and Syrians “jealously guard their respective territories within the Holy Sepulchre,” in an 1853 decree issued under the then-Ottoman rulers, known as the Status Quo, “with Ethopians relegated to the roof.”

“Scuffles among clergy of the different sects is not uncommon, and occasional bloodshed is recorded,” the magazine noted. Ironically, perhaps, two Muslim families “hold the keys to the great Crusader doors to ensure everyone access.”

This year, however, now that the Edicule has been formally reopened, it is hoped that the restoration project, undertaken by Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and others, may help the Churches go beyond the status quo of the past millennium.

Ancient altar in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre found hiding in plain sight


It is 6:30 pm, has been a long work day so and I’ve still quite a bit of my work ahead of me so today’s column will be dedicated to short takes of some of the day’s important and interesting news stories.

Pope Francis tweeted today: May the certainty of faith be the engine of our lives.

As I write, heads of State or government and the presidents of European Union institutions are gathering in Rome to mark the 60th anniversary of the signature of the Treaties of Rome that laid the foundations for what today we call the European Union. Pope Francis will address the gathering Friday and his words will be carefully watched.

Today, the EU faces huge challenges including Brexit – Britain’s exit from the Union – high levels of unemployment in several countries, debt crises, the growth of populist movements and a backlash against welcoming immigrants and refugees. Rome is gearing up for the leaders but also for protesters and, in recent days, I have already seen some subtle – and not so subtle – security preparations, and I’m guessing these are being ramped up, given the terror attacks yesterday in London. By the way, Pope Francis did sent a message of prayerful solidarity after the attacks. You’ll see this in the short takes that follow.

Say a prayer that the next few days in Rome will feature peaceful gatherings. Pray also that the routines of those of us who live in areas where the heads of State and government will be gathering (i.e., Vatican City) won’t be dramatically affected by the security measures, changes in bus routes, closures of some streets or squares, etc.


POPE FRANCIS SENT A TELEGRAM OF CONDOLENCES to Cardinal Vincent Nichols (in photo), archbishop of Westminster, expressing his sorrow for the victims of the terror attack at the House of Parliament in London on Wednesday. Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin sent the telegram in the Pope’s name:  “Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and of the injuries caused by the attack in central London, His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his prayerful solidarity with all those affected by this tragedy.  Commending those who have died to the loving mercy of Almighty God, His Holiness invokes divine strength and peace upon their grieving families, and he assures the nation of his prayers at this time.”

THE HOLY FATHER RECOGNIZED A MIRACLE attributed to the intercession of two Fatima children – Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto – during an audience on Thursday with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints,. He also approved the canonizations of 30 Brazilian and 3 Mexican martyrs. Francis will visit Fatima on May 12-13 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the apparition of Mary to the three children in Fatima.

POPE FRANCIS WILL MEET WITH AND ADDRESS 27 European Union heads of State and government at a private audience in the Sala Regia Friday evening, the eve of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome that led to the formation of the European Common Market, the precursor of the EU, European Union. Also in attendance will be the presidents and other representatives of EU institutions.

NEWLY RESTORED CHAPEL AT JESUS’ TOMB UNVEILED IN JERUSALEM – An ecumenical re-dedication service took place in Jerusalem’s Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre on Wednesday as restoration work on the chapel containing Jesus burial place was unveiled. Representatives of all the local Christian Churches gathered alongside special guests including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Orthodox world.  Pope Francis was represented by the Vatican’s representative to Israel and Palestine, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto.

To read Vatican Radio’s onsite report:


Is today’s papal tweet the Holy Father’s answer to fans and critics of Amoris Laetitia? – To understand, forgive, accompany and integrate. That is the mindset which should prevail in the Church.

I am very excited about the final story today. I have many good friends in Jordan, very active wonderful Catholics, whom I manage to see on trips to Jordan and when they come to Rome. I am also an admirer of King Abdullah as an individual and as the ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. His book, “Our Last Best Chance, The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril,” is a must read for anyone who wishes to remotely understand the Middle East. I bought it on my last trip to Jordan and found it to be a page turner. I would love to think people in our State Department have read this, and hopefully they know that Jordan and King Abdullah are very important, trustworthy allies in this part of the world. What’s more, few, if any, leaders in the Middle East have done what King Abdullah has done for Christians living in his country, not to mention the huge number of refugees.


The Apostolic Exhortation “is a precious gift for our Church, as well as families and society in Asia,” especially since it comes in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. This Card Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai and President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, said when speaking to AsiaNews about Amoris Laetitia. (photo:


For the cardinal, who holds a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Urbaniana University and a diploma in jurisprudence from the Pontifical Gregorian University, “Amoris laetitia outlines clearly that marriage is joy, and blessing, a gift from God.” Indeed, the Holy Father “speaks of the beauty and the integrity of this sacrament.

The document, which weaves together the deliberations of the two Synods on the family celebrated in 2014 and 2015, “endorses the social doctrine of the Church” in continuity with the “magisterium of John Paul II and Benedict XVI”. Under no circumstances does it represent a break with Catholic teaching.

It is also “an invitation to apply the medicine of mercy and tenderness,” by promoting an inclusive pastoral ministry that “seeks out those who live on the margins.”

“Citing Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, the pontiff notes that “love is more than a mere feeling’ (n. 94), but is instead a wilful commitment to embark on a definite path by addressing challenging things – being patient, putting aside envy and rivalry, caring about each other . . .”

In Asia, “families are traditionally very united. It is heartening that the pope connects family concerns with social concerns. He argues that families can only flourish if our societies are set up to support them.”

“It is essential that the Church in Asia get into the heart of this document. Bishops and priests can have a positive impact on our pastoral approach.”

“I would like to see our seminarians study this document, and undergo a change in mind-set and heart. Including rather than excluding is the heart of Jesus – a gift for Asia and India.” (AsiaNews)

(Cardinal Gracias is one of the C9 cardinals, the Council of Cardinals that advises the Pope.)


Pope Francis on Tuesday appointed Archbishop Christophe Pierre as the new Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America. Archbishop Pierre, a native of France, was previously Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico. He replaces Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who reached the age of retirement earlier this year. (photo:


Born January 30, 1946 in Rennes, France, he was ordained a priest in April 1970 and ordained a bishop in 1995. He was named apostolic nuncio to Haiti in 1995, and subsequently to Uganda and Mexico. In that last post, he was charged with organizing Pope Francis’ recent visit to Mexico.

Abp. Pierre succeeds Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò just months after the latter, having turned 75, offered his resignation to Pope Francis. Last Thursday, April 7, the archbishop received the Rector’s Award at the North American College’s annual Rector’s Dinner.


(Vatican Radio)  Jordan’s King Abdullah II will fund the restoration of Christ’s Tomb in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Bishop William Shomali, Latin Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem, warmly welcomed the decision of King Abdullah: “This is excellent news, news of a highly symbolic character, since the Holy Sepulchre is the most sacred place for Christians of all confessions. This decision shows the kindness of the King towards Christians and his constant concern to preserve the heritage of Christianity, including his role as guarantor of the Holy Places, Christian and Muslim, Jerusalem, according to the Wadi Araba agreement.” (photo:


Jordan’s Royal Court informed the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem of the “makruma” (Royal Benefaction) in a letter addressed to His Beatitude Theophilos III on 10 April. For his part, the Orthodox Patriarch praised the generosity of King Abdullah, recalling how His Majesty remains the faithful guardian and custodian of Muslim and Christian Holy Places of Jerusalem.

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Latin Custody of the Holy Land announced during Holy Week that restoration works on Christ’s Tomb would begin soon after the Orthodox Easter solemnities. The Holy Sepulchre, also known as the Basilica of the Resurrection, has been the holiest site of Christian pilgrimage since the 4th century. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem reports that the restoration work was needed because scientific studies had revealed grave problems of moisture from the “condensation of the breath of visitors,” and oxidation due to candle smoke.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem says the aedicule, the place of burial and Resurrection of Christ, will be the object of the restoration.  It has remained untouched since 1947 when the British put in place steel support beams as part of a restoration project that never took place. The funds offered by His Majesty for the project will be entrusted to a Greek team led by Professor Antonia Moropoulou of the National Technical University of Athens.

The three main Christian denominations that worship at the Church include the Greek Orthodox, Latin and Armenian Churches.  All have agreed to cooperate for the realization of the restoration effort.