Church leaders: Restoration on Jesus' tomb signals new cooperation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Reuters

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Less than a year after restoration work
began, the Edicule — the traditional site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection — was inaugurated in an ecumenical ceremony led by representatives of the Roman
Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian churches, including Ecumenical Patriarch
Bartholomew of Constantinople.

The 200-year-old structure was rehabilitated for the first
time after Israeli authorities deemed it unsafe and leaders from the three churches
that share custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher came to an agreement for
the work to proceed.

Some did not believe the churches could overcome their
centuries-old disagreements, but the project was a sign that “with God,
nothing is impossible,” Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic
administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said at the March 22 ceremony.

“This apparent mission impossible became possible
because we allowed God to enlighten our thoughts and our eyes and our
relations. Things do not change by themselves. If we are here for this
celebration, it is because the different churches and leaders were able to hear
the voice of God and understand and realize and accept that it was time to
build new relations between us of trust and respect,” he said.

Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, said it
was “providential coincidence” that this year, as the Edicule is
restored, all the Christian denominations celebrate Easter on the same date. It
was also fitting, he said, that it was around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
that the churches regained a closer relationship.

Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian took the opportunity to
mention the three other denominations with a presence in the church — the
Assyrian Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Coptic Orthodox. He asked
that the Anglican and Russian Orthodox churches be allowed to offering their
holy liturgy at the Edicule once a year, after Easter.

“We must pray earnestly to Jesus Christ to give us the
wisdom to be able to absorb literally between ourselves his greatest
commandment of love,” said the patriarch. “We have no difference in
regard to this commandment and, unless we accept his commandment and express it
in our lives and deeds, how can we consider ourselves Jesus’ disciples?”

Several hundred local faithful, pilgrims and international
dignitaries filled the main area of the basilica where the Edicule is located,
taking pictures and videos of the pink-stoned structure. The metal girders that
British Mandate authorities added in 1947 to keep it standing have been removed.

“It is a very exciting day which hasn’t happened in
hundreds of years. It is a very big step, we are all united in celebration,”
said Marlen Mauge, 53, a Catholic from Jerusalem. “We would like to have
more than one united celebration. It is a good message to the world.”

Antonia Moropoulou, a professor at the National Technical
University of Athens, directed the work at the site.

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