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.

Advertisement

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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Carlos Orozco
5 years 6 months 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 6 months 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."

Advertisement

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

John Milton's Paradise Lost (published in 1667) may be more relevant in our time than ever before.
Lisa AmplemanOctober 19, 2017
Released in April 2017, "DAMN." portrays Kendrick Lamar’s internal torment as he struggles with his faith.
Olga SeguraOctober 19, 2017
iStock photo
The majority of Americans now believe that “God is not a prerequisite for good values and morality.”
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 19, 2017
A neighborhood destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa, Calif. The Diocese of Santa Rosa "has been hit hard" and "is in an ongoing state of uncertainty" because of Northern California wildfires that began the night of Oct. 8, said Bishop Robert F. Vasa. (CNS photo/Jim Urquhart, Reuters)
Upward of 3,000 buildings, including the homes of at least 15 parishioners, have been destroyed just in Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 people.
Jim McDermottOctober 19, 2017