Bishops from the Holy Land gathered Tuesday afternoon with Pope Benedict in the room where, according to tradition, Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. The Holy Father, returning to his message of peace, encouraged Christians in the Holy Land to accept the gift of God’s love, which will ensure a vibrant Christian presence.
The Pope’s surroundings led him to immediately recall that the Upper Room is a place that “invites the Church to prayerful contemplation” since it was here that Jesus ‘loved them to the end.’
“In the Upper Room,” the Pope said, “the mystery of grace and salvation, of which we are recipients and also heralds and ministers, can be expressed only in terms of love. Because he has loved us first and continues to do so, we can respond with love.”
With the Christian presence in the Holy Land dwindling, Benedict XVI called on the community to let Christ’s transforming love help them “overcome the temptation to turn in upon ourselves in selfishness or indolence, isolation, prejudice or fear, and to give ourselves generously to the Lord and to others.”
The power of his love “moves us as Christian communities to be faithful to our mission with frankness and courage,” he said.
This call to “communion of mind and heart … is of special relevance in the Holy Land,” the Pope noted, pointing out that the “different Christian Churches found here … are a sign of the multiple forms of interaction between the Gospel and different cultures. “They also remind us that the mission of the Church is to preach the universal love of God and to gather, from far and near, all who are called by Him, in such a way that, with their traditions and their talents, they form the one family of God.”
As the future of the Christian presence in the Holy Land remains tenuous, the Holy Father advised the Church to generously accept and nurture “the gift of love.” Accepting and living out this gift will ensure that “the Christian presence in the Holy Land and in the neighbouring regions will be vibrant,” he said.
The Christian presence is of “vital importance for the good of society as a whole,” the Pontiff stated. “The clear words of Jesus on the intimate bond between love of God and love of neighbour, on mercy and compassion, on meekness, peace and forgiveness, are a leaven capable of transforming hearts and shaping actions. Christians in the Middle East, together with other people of good will, are contributing, as loyal and responsible citizens, in spite of difficulties and restrictions, to the promotion and consolidation of a climate of peace in diversity.”
“Count on my support and encouragement,” the Pope told the bishops, “as you do all that is in your power to assist our Christian brothers and sisters to remain and prosper here in the land of their ancestors and to be messengers and promoters of peace.”
“For my part, I renew my appeal to our brothers and sisters world-wide to support and to remember in their prayers the Christian communities of the Holy Land and the Middle East.”
After praying the Regina Coeli, Benedict XVI moved on to the Latin co-cathedral of Jerusalem where he greeted the 300 people gathered there to welcome him, among them various female religious of contemplative orders.
Having venerated the Blessed Sacrament and listened to a brief greeting from the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, the Pope thanked the religious for their prayers for his universal ministry and asked them, “in the words of the Psalmist, … to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem’, to pray without ceasing for an end to the conflict that has brought so much suffering to the peoples of this land.”