Pope Francis’ motivation is to spur interfaith tolerance during a trip to the Holy Land. However, a planned of having mass at the holy site of Jerusalem may spark religious rivalry that has plagued the city for centuries.
Prior to Pope’s arrival, hundreds of religious Jews turned out to demonstrate in accusing Israel and the Vatican of conspiring to give the Catholic Church controls over the Cenacle, a room revered, as the spot of the Last supper that also sits on top of, believed, a tomb, King David.
Israel and the Vatican are in advanced negotiations to give the church the use of the site. However, it has sparked rumors among Jewish religious hardliners that Israel’s government may surrender the site in order Vatican has complete control of it, claims denied by Israeli government officials.
Pope Francis will hold a service at the Cenacle on Monday, at the final end of his visit to Israel. The room, located just outside the Old City, has a Gothic vaulted ceiling, stained-glass windows with Arabic calligraphy, and an Islamic niche, a reminder that the room was once functioned as a mosque. One floor below is a synagogue encompassing a large sarcophagus with a covering that reads, “The King of David is alive and exists.”
Yitzchak Goldstein, the rabbi of the Diaspora Yeshiva, a Jewish religious seminary nearby the Cenacle, affirms that the Pope’s visit violates a British Mandate-era “status quo” on worship that permits individual prayer but violates the holding of organized group prayer service at the site.
Goldstien said: “When one religion is superior above the other, that’s when there’s a problem. The trinity is an offense to the essence of Jewish belief.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman denied accusations that the government had plans to hand over control of the Cenacle to the Vatican.
Israeli security officials fear that accusations, over the site, might create radical pro-settler activists to carry out attacks aimed at undermining the visit that prompt the military on Wednesday to issue restraining orders against activists. There were two allegedly linked to Rabbi Goldstein’s yeshiva.
“They claim they’re the continuation of King David and continuation of Judaism,” said Ephriam Brus, who said he is frequent visitor to the site. “As a result they want that room.”
The demonstration held outside the Old City Walls as protestors held prayer services and did circular “horas” dances to religious rock music. The protest attracted both pro-settler youths and handful of prominent Israeli hardliners such as Michael Ben Ari, a former Israeli legislator who held up a sign reading “Impure Pope: Leave Our Country.” Mr. Ben Ari, a former follower of the radical Rabbi Meir Kahane, explained, “Iwant him to stay in Rome. That’s his place, this is ours.”