Last updated: 31 March, 2013

Jerusalem prelate urges pope to visit the Holy City

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem on Sunday invited Pope Francis and the world’s Christians to visit the Holy City, which he called the birthplace of “everything Christian.”

“The Lord… invites us here to carry the light of faith at the centre of our region of the Middle East, where Christianity was born, where the mother church of Jerusalem was born, and where everything Christian was born,” Fuad Twal, the senior Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, said in his Easter homily.

“That is why our new evangelisation, in order to be up to date and effective, must start out again from Jerusalem, start out from the first Christian community,” he said in his traditional address, delivered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the walled Old City.

“Thus I renew my invitation to all pilgrims from around the world to come to the Holy Land, starting with our Pope Francis who will be most welcome.”

The faithful believe that the church marks the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

Twal also urged the international community to take “concrete and effective decisions to find a balanced and just solution for the Palestinian cause, which lies at the heart of all the Middle East’s troubles.”

“Our Church exists in suffering in the Middle East,” added the Jordan-born prelate. “I think of all the victims of war and all Syrian refugees who are crowding into neighbouring countries, notably into Jordan.”

He also noted the Holy Land’s dwindling Christian population.

Christians made up more than 18 percent of the population in 1948, when the state of Israel was founded, but today they account for fewer than 2 percent, according to the Latin patriarchate in Jerusalem.

Orthodox Christians, who are the majority in the Palestinian Christian community, will celebrate Easter on May 5 and for the first time in modern history Catholics in the Holy Land — apart from those in Jerusalem and Bethlehem — will join them.

The Orthodox follow the ancient Julian calendar, which was replaced in the Catholic church by the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century.

“We have decided in our diocese of the Holy Land, with the exception of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, that the date of Easter follow the Julian calendar so that families of mixed confessions can celebrate this mystery together, as is the case in Jordan, Syria and Egypt,” Twal said.

“This decision to unify the date for Easter is not easy, but it is a first step toward the complete unity for which we must continually pray.”

Jews on Sunday were marking the Passover festival, which commemorates the Exodus of the biblical Israelites from captivity in Egypt, and ends at sunset on Monday.