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Jerusalem authorities fear Catholic-Orthodox clashes during Holy Week

Catholic World News

March 21 2005

Jerusalem, Mar. 21 (CWNews.com) – Public officials in Jerusalem are bracing for Eastertide conflicts between Orthodox and Catholic clerics at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, according to the London Daily Telegraph .

Local officials have reportedly called in Catholic and Orthodox leaders for discussions in recent days, hoping to ward off a repetition of an ugly fight that occurred last September, when Orthodox monks charged and battered first Franciscan friars, then local police at the basilica. The Telegraph reports that a videotape of that incident shows the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irineos instructing monks “to close the door of the Franciscan chapel by force.”

Custody of the Church of Holy Sepulcher has been shared among the Catholic, Orthodox, and Armenian churches for generations, on the basis of a complex agreement that has been enforced by successive governments in Jerusalem. Disputes among the monks who administer the basilica are commonplace, but the arrival of a new Orthodox patriarch has brought tensions to a new height.

“We had good relations with the Greeks before now,” one Catholic cleric told the Telegraph. But he said that Patriarch Irineos had been “a lightning-rod for trouble.” This year, the Orthodox leader has announced plans for an Easter procession that would pass through the chapel that is in the custody of the Franciscans.

Franciscans are appealing to the Israeli government for help, saying that the Orthodox procession should follow the traditional route, not impinging on the parts of the basilica controlled by Catholics. The Franciscans’ case is complicated, however, by the Israeli courts’
reluctance to become involved in religious disputes.

The access of Catholic institutions to Israeli secular courts is one of the key questions being discussed by representatives of the Holy See and the Israeli government in the negotiations designed to produce a long-awaited agreement establishing the juridical and economic rights of Catholic institutions in Israel.

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