The basilica has been closed for more than 48 hours. The 13 Churches of Jerusalem met today at 12:30 pm. The shutdown has disappointed pilgrims, but Church leaders hope they will understand their decision. By preserving the Churches’ mission, they will be able to welcome pilgrims in the future and maintain the Christian presence in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Forty-eight hours after closing of the doors of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre at 12.30 pm Sunday, the 13 Churches of the Holy City began, united, a meeting to discuss the situation.
Marie-Armelle Beaulieu, journalist and editor-in-chief of the French magazine Terre Sainte, spoke to AsiaNews about it.
On Sunday, the Holy Sepulchre was closed in protest against the latest moves by Israeli authorities, which Christian leaders view as attempts to weaken the Christian presence in the Holy City.
These moves include a request by the Municipality of Jerusalem to the Churches to settle years of unpaid taxes on commercial activities – which the Churches have never paid due to agreements with civil authorities – and a bill in the Knesset that would allow the expropriation of Church-owned land.
Church leaders are waiting for a positive sign from Israeli authorities to reach an agreement. At present, there seems to be no openings from the authorities, and thus the basilica will remain closed.
"Pilgrims are disappointed, some of them have saved for their entire lives to pay for this pilgrimage, which is special in the life of a Christian,” said Beaulieu.
“Some have come from far away. Yesterday, I saw people from Asia, the United States. They made a long journey, to be so close and yet so far from the Tomb of Christ,” she noted.
Christian leaders "are very sorry to have to ban entry to the Holy Sepulchre," she explained. "But they hope that the pilgrims will understand the reason that brought them to the point of closing the most important shrine of Christianity."
For Beaulieu, the reason is precisely the desire to "preserve the possibility for the Churches of Jerusalem to welcome pilgrims in the future." Taxes, she notes, could have a heavy effect on the Church's mission, changing it "totally".
"We are talking about a figure that is slightly more than 150 million euros (US$ 185 million). The money the Churches do not pay in taxes does not go into anyone's pockets; it goes into the mission." Keeping the Christian presence alive is part of this mission.
"If they have to pay, they will no longer be able to hire Christians, who without work will leave". What is more, Churches not only help Christian families find work, but also a home. Hundreds of families live in Church-owned properties, rent-free.
Support for Christian spiritual leaders has come from the Christian community. "Christians support their Churches," the journalist said. "Some are even thinking of meeting in front of the Holy Sepulchre to show their support".
Pictures by Nadim Asfour (Custody of the Holy Land)