May 15, 2009
Pope Benedict XVI continues his mission of peace and hope. The Vatican reports:
At 10.15 a.m. today the Holy Father visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where he was received by six representatives from the three institutions (Greek Orthodox Church, Custody of the Holy Land and Armenian Apostolic Church) responsible for the “Status Quo”, the agreement regulating the administration of the site. Coptic, Syrian and Ethiopian Orthodox may also officiate in the basilica.
According to tradition, the Holy Sepulchre is located on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again. It was known as Golgotha (which means skull in Aramaic, so-called for the rounded form of the mount). At the entrance of the basilica, in the atrium, is the Stone of the Anointing, a long block of polished red limestone. Surrounded by candelabra and eight lamps, it constitutes the thirteenth station of the “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross). According to tradition, this marks the spot where Jesus, having been taken from the cross, was anointed. In the centre of the shrine and housed within a rectangular structure, lies the Holy Sepulchre itself, the fourteenth station of the Via Crucis.
The facade of the structure is covered with hanging lamps and silver spheres. Over the door there are three depictions of the Resurrection: Latin, Greek and Armenian. The small wooden door is always open except during the moment that the Armenian or Greek celebrant must remain alone, as prescribed by the liturgy. The structure houses a small vestibule called the Chapel of the Angel (announcement of the Resurrection to the holy women). A further door gives access to the Holy Sepulchre itself where a marble slab covers the original stone upon which Jesus’ body was placed.
Restoration work began in 1971, financed by the three communities that co- own the site. In 1994 the Custody of the Holy Land, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Jerusalem signed a historic agreement for the restoration and decoration of the dome of the Anastasis. Work was completed in 1997.
Benedict XVI prayed at the Stone of the Anointing and at the empty tomb of the Resurrection. Then, having received the greetings of Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land, and of His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, he pronounced a brief address.
“Here Christ died and rose, never to die again”, said the Pope. “Here the history of humanity was decisively changed. The long reign of sin and death was shattered by the triumph of obedience and life; the wood of the cross lay bare the truth about good and evil. … Here Christ, the new Adam, taught us that evil never has the last word, that love is stronger than death, that our future, and the future of all humanity, lies in the hands of a faithful and provident God.
“The empty tomb speaks to us of hope, the hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the Spirit of life”, he added. “This is the message that I wish to leave with you today, at the conclusion of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. May hope rise up ever anew, by God’s grace, in the hearts of all the people dwelling in these lands! May it take root in your hearts, abide in your families and communities”.
“The Church in the Holy Land, which has so often experienced the dark mystery of Golgotha, must never cease to be an intrepid herald of the luminous message of hope which this empty tomb proclaims. The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome, and that a future of justice, peace, prosperity and co-operation can arise for every man and woman, for the whole human family, and in a special way for the people who dwell in this land so dear to the heart of the Saviour”.
The Holy Father went on: “This ancient Memorial of the Anastasis bears mute witness both to the burden of our past, with its failings, misunderstandings and conflicts, and to the glorious promise which continues to radiate from Christ’s empty tomb. … Even now, the grace of the resurrection is at work within us! May our contemplation of this mystery spur our efforts, both as individuals and as members of the ecclesial community, to grow in the life of the Spirit through conversion, penance and prayer. May it help us to overcome, by the power of that same Spirit, every conflict and tension born of the flesh, and to remove every obstacle, both within and without, standing in the way of our common witness to Christ and the reconciling power of His love.
“With these words of encouragement”, the Holy Father ended his remarks, “I conclude my pilgrimage to the holy places of our redemption and rebirth in Christ. I pray that the Church in the Holy Land will always draw new strength from her contemplation of the empty tomb of the Saviour. In that tomb she is called to bury all her anxieties and fears, in order to rise again each day and continue her journey through the streets of Jerusalem, Galilee and beyond, proclaiming the triumph of Christ’s forgiveness and the promise of new life”.
Having concluded his address, Benedict XVI moved on to the Chapel of the Apparition. There he paused in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament before climbing up to Golgotha where he prayed at the site of Calvary. Then, his visit complete, he travelled by car the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem.