JERUSALEM – In little less than five months, Pope Francis will travel for the first time to the Holy Land, since the start of his pontificate. For the local Church that welcomes the Sovereign Pontiff, it is a great joy, but the visit also involves major planning. At the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, preparations have already begun.
The coming of the Pope to any country always involves many challenges for the local church, for believers and those who are not, for politicians and ordinary passers-by. Especially when it pertains to the visit of the very popular Pope Francis to one of the more conflicted regions of the world. The brevity of his trip – only three days, in Jordan, Palestine and Israel – makes the development of a program very difficult. It is necessary to schedule “obligatory” visits dictated by the responsibilities of the Pope not only a religious leader and also a head of state. Also planned are more pastoral visits, characteristic of the Holy Father’s pontificate, marked by attention to the poorest, to refugees and to the unity of the Church.
For the visit of a Pope, as well as for any head of state, there are many aspects to foresee. First of all, all things directly pertaining to the guest of honor, namely housing, transportation, and protocol. Similarly, everything related to the influx of people participating in meetings: for this, logistics teams come into play. Noting also the media teams who have an active role in the journey of the Pope and to the whole world, and who broadcast the visit so that everyone can experience it. Finally, as the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope also plans to celebrate Mass, which requires liturgical planning teams.
For each of these areas, a committee is responsible for working with the Vatican and the governments of the visited countries. There are a total of five for Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and four for Jordan.
To further intensify the preparation, there must be agreement with the Custody of the Holy Land, the Guardian of the Holy Places; the Latin Catholics; Melkite Catholics and Maronite Catholics, all of whom acknowledge the authority of the Pope. At the center of at least two of these commissions, Father Georges Ayoub, Chancellor of the diocese, explains, with an almost defiant tone, that “the Pope is not only for Latins but for all Catholics. It is therefore with them that everything must be organized.” Bishop Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem adds “This does not have to cause worry. On the contrary, we must meet and work together so that all may benefit from this visit.”
Now that the list of committees has been published, everyone can get down to work in his field to better prepare the visit. Everything has one objective: that the Pope may have the least possible concern and can devote himself entirely to his pastoral mission giving his message all the force he wants to give it.
Pierre Loup de Raucourt