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Pope, patriarch pray in Holy Sepulcher church

KDWN

JERUSALEM (AP) — Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians prayed together Sunday inside the Jerusalem church that symbolizes their divisions, calling their historic meeting a step toward healing the centuries-old Catholic-Orthodox schism.

Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I embraced one another in the stone courtyard outside the 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulcher and recited the “Our Father” prayer together once inside, an unprecedented moment of solemnity at the spot where Catholic and Orthodox believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The encounter, punctuated by haunting Greek and Latin chants, was full of symbolic meaning: The two men, both in their mid-70s, helped one another down the stone steps leading into the church, grasping one another’s forearms. And after Bartholomew delivered his remarks, Francis bent down and kissed his hand in remarkable show of papal respect for a patriarch when some 500 years ago a patriarch was forced to kiss the feet of the pope.

The evening prayer service was the spiritual highlight of Francis’ three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land and capped a momentous day in which the Israeli and Palestinian presidents accepted Francis’ invitation to join him at the Vatican next month to pray for peace.

Francis has said his primary reason for coming to the region was to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. Their 1964 embrace ended 900 years of mutual excommunication and estrangement sparked by the Great Schism of 1054, which split Christianity.

Since that meeting, the two churches have grown closer in personal friendships and even theological dialogue, but core differences remain, including over the primacy of the pope.

Tellingly, Francis referred to Paul not as pope but as “bishop of Rome” – the other main title attributed to popes and the way Francis introduced himself to the world on the night he was elected pope in a clear gesture toward his Orthodox “brothers.”

Bartholomew, for his part, called for their meeting at Christ’s tomb to show how fear, religious fanaticism and hatred of people of other faiths and races can be overcome by love. “The message of the life-giving tomb is clear: love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions.”

The site of their meeting could not have been more significant: Perhaps no other piece of real estate on Earth symbolizes the divisions of Christianity than the Holy Sepulcher, where six Christian denominations practice their faith, yet occasionally come to blows in jealously guarding their turf and times of worship.

Given the centuries of tensions underlying the visit, the seating arrangements and procession order alone were an ecclesiastical and diplomatic feat of protocol. Francis, Bartholomew and the leaders of the three main communities that share the church – Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic – all sat on the same sized, gilded red velvet chairs facing the shrine encasing Jesus’ tomb.

Bartholomew was the first to enter the tomb, but Francis was the first to climb the steep stairs up to the site where tradition holds Christ was crucified. The Gospel was chanted in both Latin and Greek, to appeal to the linguistic traditions of both Catholic and Orthodox. The two men recited the “Our Father” together in the relatively neutral Italian.

They embraced each other on several occasions, drawing applause from the ecumenical crowd inside the cavernous church lit by twinkling lanterns. After arriving at the church piazza from separate entrances, they left in the same car to dine together.

Though the three major denominations adamantly stick to the status quo arrangement that governs separate worship at the church, none particularly enjoys the arrangement.

“We are grown-ups. We should be able to sit down and finalize the whole thing,” said the Rev. Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior of the Holy Sepulcher.

“The amount of energy that’s required to maintain it is counterproductive,” said the Rev. Athanasius Macora, a Texas native and Franciscan monk who sits on an inter-church commission that negotiates disputes at the Holy Sepulcher.

“It’s very silly. We laugh about it,” said Anna Koulouris, a communications adviser with the Greek Orthodox church.

Associated Press writer Daniel Estrin contributed to this report.

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield and Daniel Estrin at http://www.twitter.com/danielestrin

Pope, patriarch pray in Holy Sepulcher church

KDWN

JERUSALEM (AP) — Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians prayed together Sunday inside the Jerusalem church that symbolizes their divisions, calling their historic meeting a step toward healing the centuries-old Catholic-Orthodox schism.

Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I embraced one another in the stone courtyard outside the 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulcher and recited the “Our Father” prayer together once inside, an unprecedented moment of solemnity at the spot where Catholic and Orthodox believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The encounter, punctuated by haunting Greek and Latin chants, was full of symbolic meaning: The two men, both in their mid-70s, helped one another down the stone steps leading into the church, grasping one another’s forearms. And after Bartholomew delivered his remarks, Francis bent down and kissed his hand in remarkable show of papal respect for a patriarch when some 500 years ago a patriarch was forced to kiss the feet of the pope.

The evening prayer service was the spiritual highlight of Francis’ three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land and capped a momentous day in which the Israeli and Palestinian presidents accepted Francis’ invitation to join him at the Vatican next month to pray for peace.

Francis has said his primary reason for coming to the region was to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. Their 1964 embrace ended 900 years of mutual excommunication and estrangement sparked by the Great Schism of 1054, which split Christianity.

Since that meeting, the two churches have grown closer in personal friendships and even theological dialogue, but core differences remain, including over the primacy of the pope.

Tellingly, Francis referred to Paul not as pope but as “bishop of Rome” – the other main title attributed to popes and the way Francis introduced himself to the world on the night he was elected pope in a clear gesture toward his Orthodox “brothers.”

Bartholomew, for his part, called for their meeting at Christ’s tomb to show how fear, religious fanaticism and hatred of people of other faiths and races can be overcome by love. “The message of the life-giving tomb is clear: love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions.”

The site of their meeting could not have been more significant: Perhaps no other piece of real estate on Earth symbolizes the divisions of Christianity than the Holy Sepulcher, where six Christian denominations practice their faith, yet occasionally come to blows in jealously guarding their turf and times of worship.

Given the centuries of tensions underlying the visit, the seating arrangements and procession order alone were an ecclesiastical and diplomatic feat of protocol. Francis, Bartholomew and the leaders of the three main communities that share the church – Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic – all sat on the same sized, gilded red velvet chairs facing the shrine encasing Jesus’ tomb.

Bartholomew was the first to enter the tomb, but Francis was the first to climb the steep stairs up to the site where tradition holds Christ was crucified. The Gospel was chanted in both Latin and Greek, to appeal to the linguistic traditions of both Catholic and Orthodox. The two men recited the “Our Father” together in the relatively neutral Italian.

They embraced each other on several occasions, drawing applause from the ecumenical crowd inside the cavernous church lit by twinkling lanterns. After arriving at the church piazza from separate entrances, they left in the same car to dine together.

Though the three major denominations adamantly stick to the status quo arrangement that governs separate worship at the church, none particularly enjoys the arrangement.

“We are grown-ups. We should be able to sit down and finalize the whole thing,” said the Rev. Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior of the Holy Sepulcher.

“The amount of energy that’s required to maintain it is counterproductive,” said the Rev. Athanasius Macora, a Texas native and Franciscan monk who sits on an inter-church commission that negotiates disputes at the Holy Sepulcher.

“It’s very silly. We laugh about it,” said Anna Koulouris, a communications adviser with the Greek Orthodox church.

Associated Press writer Daniel Estrin contributed to this report.

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield and Daniel Estrin at http://www.twitter.com/danielestrin

Pope, patriarch pray in Holy Sepulcher church

KDWN

JERUSALEM (AP) — Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians prayed together Sunday inside the Jerusalem church that symbolizes their divisions, calling their historic meeting a step toward healing the centuries-old Catholic-Orthodox schism.

Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I embraced one another in the stone courtyard outside the 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulcher and recited the “Our Father” prayer together once inside, an unprecedented moment of solemnity at the spot where Catholic and Orthodox believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The encounter, punctuated by haunting Greek and Latin chants, was full of symbolic meaning: The two men, both in their mid-70s, helped one another down the stone steps leading into the church, grasping one another’s forearms. And after Bartholomew delivered his remarks, Francis bent down and kissed his hand in remarkable show of papal respect for a patriarch when some 500 years ago a patriarch was forced to kiss the feet of the pope.

The evening prayer service was the spiritual highlight of Francis’ three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land and capped a momentous day in which the Israeli and Palestinian presidents accepted Francis’ invitation to join him at the Vatican next month to pray for peace.

Francis has said his primary reason for coming to the region was to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. Their 1964 embrace ended 900 years of mutual excommunication and estrangement sparked by the Great Schism of 1054, which split Christianity.

Since that meeting, the two churches have grown closer in personal friendships and even theological dialogue, but core differences remain, including over the primacy of the pope.

Tellingly, Francis referred to Paul not as pope but as “bishop of Rome” – the other main title attributed to popes and the way Francis introduced himself to the world on the night he was elected pope in a clear gesture toward his Orthodox “brothers.”

Bartholomew, for his part, called for their meeting at Christ’s tomb to show how fear, religious fanaticism and hatred of people of other faiths and races can be overcome by love. “The message of the life-giving tomb is clear: love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions.”

The site of their meeting could not have been more significant: Perhaps no other piece of real estate on Earth symbolizes the divisions of Christianity than the Holy Sepulcher, where six Christian denominations practice their faith, yet occasionally come to blows in jealously guarding their turf and times of worship.

Given the centuries of tensions underlying the visit, the seating arrangements and procession order alone were an ecclesiastical and diplomatic feat of protocol. Francis, Bartholomew and the leaders of the three main communities that share the church – Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic – all sat on the same sized, gilded red velvet chairs facing the shrine encasing Jesus’ tomb.

Bartholomew was the first to enter the tomb, but Francis was the first to climb the steep stairs up to the site where tradition holds Christ was crucified. The Gospel was chanted in both Latin and Greek, to appeal to the linguistic traditions of both Catholic and Orthodox. The two men recited the “Our Father” together in the relatively neutral Italian.

They embraced each other on several occasions, drawing applause from the ecumenical crowd inside the cavernous church lit by twinkling lanterns. After arriving at the church piazza from separate entrances, they left in the same car to dine together.

Though the three major denominations adamantly stick to the status quo arrangement that governs separate worship at the church, none particularly enjoys the arrangement.

“We are grown-ups. We should be able to sit down and finalize the whole thing,” said the Rev. Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior of the Holy Sepulcher.

“The amount of energy that’s required to maintain it is counterproductive,” said the Rev. Athanasius Macora, a Texas native and Franciscan monk who sits on an inter-church commission that negotiates disputes at the Holy Sepulcher.

“It’s very silly. We laugh about it,” said Anna Koulouris, a communications adviser with the Greek Orthodox church.

Associated Press writer Daniel Estrin contributed to this report.

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield and Daniel Estrin at http://www.twitter.com/danielestrin

Pope, patriarch pray in Holy Sepulcher church

KDWN

JERUSALEM (AP) — Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians prayed together Sunday inside the Jerusalem church that symbolizes their divisions, calling their historic meeting a step toward healing the centuries-old Catholic-Orthodox schism.

Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I embraced one another in the stone courtyard outside the 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulcher and recited the “Our Father” prayer together once inside, an unprecedented moment of solemnity at the spot where Catholic and Orthodox believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The encounter, punctuated by haunting Greek and Latin chants, was full of symbolic meaning: The two men, both in their mid-70s, helped one another down the stone steps leading into the church, grasping one another’s forearms. And after Bartholomew delivered his remarks, Francis bent down and kissed his hand in remarkable show of papal respect for a patriarch when some 500 years ago a patriarch was forced to kiss the feet of the pope.

The evening prayer service was the spiritual highlight of Francis’ three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land and capped a momentous day in which the Israeli and Palestinian presidents accepted Francis’ invitation to join him at the Vatican next month to pray for peace.

Francis has said his primary reason for coming to the region was to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. Their 1964 embrace ended 900 years of mutual excommunication and estrangement sparked by the Great Schism of 1054, which split Christianity.

Since that meeting, the two churches have grown closer in personal friendships and even theological dialogue, but core differences remain, including over the primacy of the pope.

Tellingly, Francis referred to Paul not as pope but as “bishop of Rome” – the other main title attributed to popes and the way Francis introduced himself to the world on the night he was elected pope in a clear gesture toward his Orthodox “brothers.”

Bartholomew, for his part, called for their meeting at Christ’s tomb to show how fear, religious fanaticism and hatred of people of other faiths and races can be overcome by love. “The message of the life-giving tomb is clear: love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions.”

The site of their meeting could not have been more significant: Perhaps no other piece of real estate on Earth symbolizes the divisions of Christianity than the Holy Sepulcher, where six Christian denominations practice their faith, yet occasionally come to blows in jealously guarding their turf and times of worship.

Given the centuries of tensions underlying the visit, the seating arrangements and procession order alone were an ecclesiastical and diplomatic feat of protocol. Francis, Bartholomew and the leaders of the three main communities that share the church – Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic – all sat on the same sized, gilded red velvet chairs facing the shrine encasing Jesus’ tomb.

Bartholomew was the first to enter the tomb, but Francis was the first to climb the steep stairs up to the site where tradition holds Christ was crucified. The Gospel was chanted in both Latin and Greek, to appeal to the linguistic traditions of both Catholic and Orthodox. The two men recited the “Our Father” together in the relatively neutral Italian.

They embraced each other on several occasions, drawing applause from the ecumenical crowd inside the cavernous church lit by twinkling lanterns. After arriving at the church piazza from separate entrances, they left in the same car to dine together.

Though the three major denominations adamantly stick to the status quo arrangement that governs separate worship at the church, none particularly enjoys the arrangement.

“We are grown-ups. We should be able to sit down and finalize the whole thing,” said the Rev. Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior of the Holy Sepulcher.

“The amount of energy that’s required to maintain it is counterproductive,” said the Rev. Athanasius Macora, a Texas native and Franciscan monk who sits on an inter-church commission that negotiates disputes at the Holy Sepulcher.

“It’s very silly. We laugh about it,” said Anna Koulouris, a communications adviser with the Greek Orthodox church.

Associated Press writer Daniel Estrin contributed to this report.

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield and Daniel Estrin at http://www.twitter.com/danielestrin

Pope, patriarch pray in Holy Sepulcher church

KDWN

JERUSALEM (AP) — Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians have prayed together inside the Jerusalem church that symbolizes their divisions, calling their historic meeting a step toward healing the centuries-old Catholic-Orthodox schism.

Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I embraced one another in the stone courtyard outside the 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulcher and recited the “Our Father” prayer together once inside. It was an unprecedented moment of solemnity at the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.

The Sunday evening encounter was full of symbolic meaning. After Bartholomew delivered his remarks, Francis bent down and kissed his hand in a remarkable show of papal respect for an Orthodox patriarch.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians could not have chosen a more fitting meeting place to promote Christian unity on Sunday than the Jerusalem holy site where their churches’ centuries-old rivalries and machinations play out every day.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where the pope will meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in the central event of his Holy Land trip, marks the spot where Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

A 12th century building sitting on 4th century remains, it is one of the world’s oldest churches and the only place where six Christian denominations practice their faith at the same site. To a visitor, its dark, medieval caverns can seem to be a chaotic jumble of clergymen, chapels and candles.

But invisible border lines run through the building, carving out property rights from the roof all the way down to the underground plumbing, and every lamp, column and manhole in between. Scuffles erupt about twice a year when monks overstep their bounds.

“It’s kind of scandalous,” said the Rev. Juan Solana, a Vatican envoy in Jerusalem, who said he considered the Holy Sepulcher Christianity’s most important site. “The wounds of the church are very much evident there.”

Pope Francis’ three-day visit to the Holy Land, which begins Saturday, is centered on trying to heal those wounds. The ecumenical meeting of Christian patriarchs and spiritual leaders in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s historic 1964 meeting in Jerusalem with Patriarch Athenagoras, the then-spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. That meeting ended 900 years of estrangement between the churches.

The summit is aimed at bridging rifts between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, Vatican officials say. The denominations differ on theology and liturgy, and they celebrate Christmas and other holidays on different days, posing dilemmas for numerous Catholic-Orthodox mixed couples in the Holy Land and elsewhere.

The Rev. David Neuhaus, a Catholic official in Jerusalem, lowered expectations, saying it was unclear if religious leaders would even issue a joint statement after the meeting. But he said the meeting would push the churches to gradually advance relations.

“We are expecting something practical to come out” of the summit, Neuhaus said.

When it comes to the church they’ll meet in, old animosities die hard.

Territorial fights have gone on at the Holy Sepulcher for centuries, with various rulers of the Holy Land transferring property rights back and forth to their favored sects.

In 1852, the Ottoman authorities governing the Holy Land decreed the church’s power-sharing arrangements could not be changed. Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian clergy govern the Sepulcher building, with lesser rights accorded to Copts, Assyrians and Ethiopians.

The status quo was not written down until 1929, when the British took control of the Holy Land and British officer Lionel George Archer Cust sat in the church and documented what he saw. His document, still followed today, outlines who gets to rings the bells first, who can hang paintings in another’s chapel, who cleans the staircase and a dizzying list of other rules.

Cust’s document left some gray areas, like what goes on inside the Edicule, the shrine encasing the tomb, during the annual Feast of the Cross. In 2008, Armenian and Greek clergy threw punches after the Armenians accused a Greek monk of overstepping his bounds by entering the sanctum during the ceremony. That was the last major skirmish inside the church.

Christian denominations also fight over who gets the “privilege” to pay for restorations and cleaning. This year, the Israeli government stepped in and paid to replace a bumpy chapel floor because Syrian and Armenian Orthodox clergy both claimed rights to the floor and both refused to let the other pay. A few years ago, it took seven weeks of negotiations for the church’s denominations to agree on new toilets.

Territory still trumps aesthetics in the church.

Franciscan Catholics prop up an enormous steel step ladder near the church’s main entrance for three months each year between Lent and the feast of Corpus Christi, because the status quo pact allows them to do so to light high-hanging oil lamps – even though the oil lamps haven’t been there since 1938.

Like a flag, the ladder stands there to assert sovereignty. It will still be there when the pope and Orthodox spiritual leader arrive.

“You would think they would have moved a big, ugly-looking ladder,” said Anna Koulouris, a communications adviser with the rival Greek Orthodox church.

But ladders are a popular symbol of control at the Holy Sepulcher. A short wooden ladder, which Armenian clergy claim, has been leaning on the balcony above the church’s entrance likely since the early 19th century.

Though they adamantly stick to the status quo, none of the three major denominations that zealously govern the Holy Sepulcher enjoy the arrangement.

“We are grown-ups. We should be able to sit down and finalize the whole thing,” said the Rev. Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior of the Holy Sepulcher.

“The amount of energy that’s required to maintain it is counterproductive,” said Father Athanasius Macora, a Texas native and Franciscan monk who sits on an inter-church commission that negotiates disputes at the Holy Sepulcher.

“It’s very silly. We laugh about it,” Koulouris said.

But in preparing the big meeting Sunday with the Pope and Orthodox spiritual patriarch, the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches say they’re getting along well.

“The cooperation has been good,” Father Athanasius said. “It’s in both of our interests.”

Follow Daniel Estrin on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/danielestrin .