Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The Eucharistic celebration in the Upper Room was the last event in Pope Francis' pilgrimage to the Holy Land before his flight home to Rome tonight. Here the Church "was born," he said, and it was here that "she set out," a place that reminds us of service, fraternity, sharing, harmony, peace, promise, but also of the pettiness, curiosity, and betrayal.
The small room where Francis concluded his visit, and where the Last Supper took place, is located on the second floor of a building that, according to tradition, stands on the tomb of King David. Although open to the public, celebrations are not allowed, Fr Pizzaballa, custodian of the Holy Land, said, except for special cases such as this.
The Franciscans claim ownership to the building, which has been held by Israel since the 1967 war. And suggestions have been made, especially during Pope John Paul II's visit, about an arrangement with the Catholic Church, if not over ownership, at least over some form of management.
On the eve of the pope's arrival, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigor Lieberman, leader of the rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu party, who reacted to a protest by ultra-Orthodox Jews over Francis' presence in the Upper Room or rumours that the Israeli government might give away the upper Room to the Holy See, said, "There are no plans to deliver or grant rights to the Upper Room to the Vatican. Neither during the Pope's visit to Israel, nor after."
There are no demonstrators when Pope Francis arrived, who dedicated his two last engagements in the Holy Land to the Church.
Whilst the Mass was dedicated to "birth of the new family, the Church," before going to the Upper Room, he met with priests, religious and seminarians from the Church of Gethsemane, near the Garden of Olives. "Here, in this place," he said, "each of us - bishops, priests, consecrated persons, and seminarians - might do well to ask: Who am I, before the sufferings of my Lord?
"Am I among those who, when Jesus asks them to keep watch with him, fall asleep instead, and rather than praying, seek to escape, refusing to face reality?
"Do I see myself in those who fled out of fear, who abandoned the Master at the most tragic hour in his earthly life?
"Is there perhaps duplicity in me, like that of the one who sold our Lord for thirty pieces of silver, who was once called Jesus' "friend", and yet ended up by betraying him?
"Do I see myself in those who drew back and denied him, like Peter? Shortly before, he had promised Jesus that he would follow him even unto death; but then, put to the test and assailed by fear, he swore he did not know him.
"Am I like those who began planning to go about their lives without him, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, foolish and slow of heart to believe the words of the prophets?
"Or, thanks be to God, do I find myself among those who remained faithful to the end, like the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John? On Golgotha, when everything seemed bleak and all hope seemed pointless, only love proved stronger than death. The love of the Mother and the beloved disciple made them stay at the foot of the Cross, sharing in the pain of Jesus, to the very end.
"Do I recognize myself in those who imitated their Master and Lord to the point of martyrdom, testifying that he was everything to them, the incomparable strength sustaining their mission and the ultimate horizon of their lives?
"Jesus' friendship with us, his faithfulness and his mercy, are a priceless gift which encourages us to follow him trustingly, our failures, our mistakes and betrayals notwithstanding.
"But the Lord's goodness does not dispense us from the need for vigilance before the Tempter, before sin, before the evil and the betrayal which can enter even into the religious and priestly life. We are fully conscious of the disproportion between the grandeur of God's call and of own littleness, between the sublimity of the mission and the reality of our human weakness.
"Yet the Lord in his great goodness and his infinite mercy always takes us by the hand lest we drown in the sea of our fears and anxieties. He is ever at our side, he never abandons us. And so, let us not be overwhelmed by fear or disheartened, but with courage and confidence let us press forward in our journey and in our mission."
Where the last supper took place is where the mission was born. This is where "the Church was born, and was born to go forth. From here, she set out, with the broken bread in her hands, the wounds of Christ before her eyes, and the Spirit of love in her heart.
"In the Upper Room, the risen Jesus, sent by the Father, bestowed upon the apostles his own Spirit and with this power he sent them forth to renew the face of the earth (cf. Ps 104:30).
"To go forth, to set out, does not mean to forget. The Church, in her going forth, preserves the memory of what took place here; the Spirit, the Paraclete, reminds her of every word and every action, and reveals their true meaning.
"The Upper Room speaks to us of service, of Jesus giving the disciples an example by washing their feet. Washing one another's feet signifies welcoming, accepting, loving and serving one another. It means serving the poor, the sick and the outcast.
"The Upper Room reminds us, through the Eucharist, of sacrifice. In every Eucharistic celebration Jesus offers himself for us to the Father, so that we too can be united with him, offering to God our lives, our work, our joys and our sorrows... offering everything as a spiritual sacrifice.
"The Upper Room reminds us of friendship. 'No longer do I call you servants - Jesus said to the Twelve - but I have called you friends' (Jn 15:15). The Lord makes us his friends, he reveals God's will to us and he gives us his very self. This is the most beautiful part of being a Christian and, especially, of being a priest: becoming a friend of the Lord Jesus.
"The Upper Room reminds us of the Teacher's farewell and his promise to return to his friends: 'When I go... I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also' (Jn 14:3). Jesus does not leave us, nor does he ever abandon us; he precedes us to the house of the Father, where he desires to bring us as well.
"The Upper Room, however, also reminds us of pettiness, of curiosity - "Who is the traitor?" - and of betrayal. We ourselves, and not just others, can reawaken those attitudes whenever we look at our brother or sister with contempt, whenever we judge them, whenever by our sins we betray Jesus.
"The Upper Room reminds us of sharing, fraternity, harmony and peace among ourselves. How much love and goodness has flowed from the Upper Room! How much charity has gone forth from here, like a river from its source, beginning as a stream and then expanding and becoming a great torrent. All the saints drew from this source; and hence the great river of the Church's holiness continues to flow: from the Heart of Christ, from the Eucharist and from the Holy Spirit.
"Lastly, the Upper Room reminds us of the birth of the new family, the Church, established by the risen Jesus; a family that has a Mother, the Virgin Mary. Christian families belong to this great family, and in it they find the light and strength to press on and be renewed, amid the challenges and difficulties of life. All God's children, of every people and language, are invited and called to be part of this great family, as brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of the one Father in heaven.
"These horizons are opened up by the Upper Room, the horizons of the Risen Lord and his Church.
"From here the Church goes forth, impelled by the life-giving breath of the Spirit. Gathered in prayer with the Mother of Jesus, the Church lives in constant expectation of a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth!"