Holy Thursday: Agreement over the Cenacle?

On Holy Thursday, Christians recall the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. It is a day when a story about the Cenacle, the Upper Room where Jesus took his last meal with the disciples, is a natural choice for news editors. The room is on every pilgrim's itinerary, but title for the space has been in dispute for centuries, and Christian devotions there are strictly limited (in my experience to silence and a short, quiet prayer).

Held by the Franciscans, then by Muslims, and now partially occupied since 1967 by an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva and the putative tomb of King David, the question of its ownership or at least its administration, has been part of negotiations between the Holy See and Israel for much of the last two decades.

According to informed sources, an agreement on land, taxes and other fiscal matters, has been delayed in part because Archbishop Antonio Franco, the apostolic nuncio to Israel, has held out particularly for a settlement on the Cenacle more favorable to Catholic interests. At the very least, Catholics would like to pray openly and celebrate the Eucharist there.

A recent NPR story relates little fresh news. It suggests an agreement may be made public by June. But in Israel-Vatican relations agreements are perpetually just over the horizon. Perhaps more significantly the comment by Rabbi Avraham Goldstein, the head of the David's Tomb Yeshiva, that as soon as the site becomes "a church," Jews will be unable to enter it, suggests negotiations may be at an impasse.

Goldstein's reading of Jewish law would exclude Catholic worship in the Upper Room, a reasonable baseline concession on the Israeli side, if neither administration nor title were to return to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Why then a story on a day the Holy See Press Office is closed? Is there an effort to move the talks to a unilateral conclusion by taking the Cenacle off the table? Already two holy sites, Capharnum and Mount Tabor have been made national parks without any negotiation. Or perhaps, the placement of the story is a ploy to change an undisclosed agreement with which one party or another is dissatisfied.

As a journalist, I fall back on the old bromide, "This bears watching." As a believer, I pray the dispute doesn't weigh on Catholic-Jewish relations and a new agreement will foster improve ties in the near future.
 

Drew Christiansen, S.J.

Carlos Orozco
5 years 1 month ago
Dave #1:

Of course, as Catholics we certainly would not want to have others stressed in the thought that they are entering an "unpure" place because of worship of Jesus Christ.
David Pasinski
5 years 1 month ago
I think it would be wonderful if the Pope said to all faiths, "This site has been revered by Christians and all of you, but as far as for us Catholics, we believe that the Christ in the Eucharist is present in every Mass and we really don't need a site to remind us of that. So, we gladly cede any "rights" that we have claimed because we beleive we encounter Him daily and everywhere."

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A youth takes the Eucharist from Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez during a Mass giving thanks for Pope Francis' announcement that Chavez will be elevated to the rank of cardinal, at San Francisco de Asis parish church in San Salvador, El Salvador on Monday, May 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)
Rosa Chavez has a reputation as a man of the people, warm and quick to smile.
Fan leaves the Park Inn hotel in central Manchester, England, on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Over a dozen people were killed in an explosion following a Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena late Monday evening. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Pope Francis sent his condolences and prayers to all those affected "by this senseless act of violence" in Manchester, England.
In this photo taken May 19, 2017, a GPO worker stacks copies of "Analytical Perspectives Budget of the U.S. Government Fiscal Year 2018" onto a pallet at the U.S. Government Publishing Office's (GPO) plant in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The budget’s moral measure will be assessed by “how well it promotes the common good of all,” the bishops write.
Kevin ClarkeMay 22, 2017
A veteran activist provides a blueprint for creating a movement in the moment of Trump.
Nathan SchneiderMay 22, 2017