05/12/2009, 00.00
VATICAN - ISRAEL
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Catholics still waiting for the return of the Cenacle, Father Jaeger says

The Israeli Franciscan stresses that the Custody of the Holy Land and the Church still want the return of the holy place. In 2000 media reports had raised hope that Israel might be willing to return the Cenacle to John Paul II but nothing has happened so far. Ownership remains an issue in search of a solution.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Custody of the Holy Land and the Church in the world continue to demand the return of the Cenacle. According to some media,  the Israeli government promised its return during John Paul II’s pontificate. It was in the same Cenacle building that Benedict XVI recited the Regina Caeli today as part of his pilgrimage to the holy places.

Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land Santa, greeted the Pope, on coming to the “smallest and . . . perhaps the least looked after” of all the Holy Places, one of the “contradictions of the Holy Land . . . . The place of God’s holiness, of his unconditional love, of mankind’s smallness.” But also a place of “great moving nostalgia for our home and nostalgia for a holy place that belongs to us as Christians and Church.”

On the subject of the Cenacle AsiaNews spoke to Fr David-Maria A. Jaeger asking him some questions. A legal expert with the Franciscan order, he is an authority on State-Church relations in the Holy Land.

Father Jaeger: “Who owns the Cenacle?

The Holy Father's pilgrimage to the Cenacle on Mount Zion, the Shrine of the Last Supper, inevitably is also a reminder of the anomaly of the present situation of this Holy Place of the Institution of the Mass and the Coming down of the Holy Spirit, which could therefore be called the Birth-place of the Church.

It became the property of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land—indeed its mother-house—in the fourteenth century, a gift of the King and Queen of Naples, with the special blessing and approval of the Pope. Two centuries later though, the Ottoman rulers of Jerusalem at that time expelled the Franciscans by force, and now it is in the hands of the government of Israel.

The Franciscan Custody, however, has never relinquished its right of property in the Holy Place, and has all these centuries demanded its restitution, as it still does. It has done so in the name of the whole world-wide Catholic Church, which—by Papal mandate—the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land represents at this and other Holy Places. As an enduring sign of never acquiescing in the unjust results of the violent expulsion, the principal and original title of the Custos of the Holy Land remains forever that of ‘Guardian of the Holy Mount Zion’, as is evidenced by his seal.

What are the chances of getting the Cenacle back?

It is well-known, as reported by the media at the time, that there was much hope that the government was going to carry out such restitution in 2000, on the occasion of the Jubilee Pilgrimage of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, and naturally—as the media have this time too reported—these hopes were once more re-kindled by the announcement of the pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI.

This time too, at least to go by what is known at this time, Catholics worldwide have been disappointed.

But the Church has waited for centuries now and is not likely to give up that hope.

On the contrary, the ongoing friendly normalisation of the relations between the State and the Church is strengthening these hopes and expectations. And, of course, [there are] the fervent prayers of the world's Catholics whom the Holy Father's pilgrimage is powerfully reminding of this question awaiting resolution.

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