Beirut (AsiaNews) - During his upcoming trip to the Holy Land (24-26 May), which will mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's historic visit to the region, Pope Francis might use the Cadillac used by his predecessor.
The idea comes from the Maronite Patriarchate, which made the proposal to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Mgr Fouad Twal, this according to sources in Bkerke.
Although the proposal might not be accepted, the car, which is in good condition, is currently undergoing renovation at a specialised repair shop in Lebanon.
At the time of Pope Paul VI's visit in January 1964, the car was provided to the pope by the then Jordanian King, Hussein.
The king, aware of the symbolic value of a car used by the head of the universal Church, decided at the end of the papal pilgrimage, to donate it to the Maronite Patriarchate, which, in his eyes, represented the largest Catholic community in the East.
The then apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Edmond Farhat, said that "the Maronite Patriarchate greatly appreciated the king's gesture and accepted the car with gratitude. Patriarch el-Meouchi was careful when he used it and the car has been treated lovingly."
"After 50 years, it is still in good condition at the Maronite Patriarchal See," the nuncio said. "Although some of the patriarchs used during their time in office, it is still in excellent conditions."
There was even a moment, we now know, when someone proposed to sell it to a collector, but Patriarch al-Rahi, as one might imagine, said no.
By keeping it with so much care, Maronite leaders have kept alive the memory of Pope Paul VI's visit as well as the historical and spiritual dimension it has had for the Middle East.
On that occasion, Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras exchanged the kiss of peace in Jerusalem, an ecumenical event whose memory and consequences still endure.
That meeting led to a joint statement by the pope and Athenagoras, with which they lifted their mutual excommunications of 1054.
Behind the scenes, King Hussein of Jordan is also said to have given the pope a "royal" welcome as required by the occasion, and that, as an experienced pilot, he performed aerobatics as a token of greeting.
"Paul VI's trip to Palestine," Mgr Farhat said, "opened new horizons that no one could foresee. And the car, the main means of his movements - the Pope also travelled to Nazareth and Bethlehem - is part of the living memory and the material remembrance of the spiritual movement that was beginning."
"Fifty years later, the historical situation has changed. Jerusalem and the West Bank have been under Israeli control since 1967 and after the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II, armoured cars have replaced limousines, but the thirst for peace remains the same."
"Travelling to the Holy Land as the successor of Pope Paul VI, Pope Francis will renew the momentum given by Paul VI to ecumenical relations and to the quest for unity, which is more indispensable than ever."
"How a beautiful it would be if, 50 years later, the Cadillac, with such great symbolic value, could be used. And what joy, it would be for the Maronite Church to be the faithful and watchful custodian of the past and the bearer of so valuable and dynamic a future."