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VATICAN CITY – An ecumenical re-dedication service took place in Jerusalem’s Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre here on 22 Mar 2017 as restoration work on the chapel containing Jesus burial place was unveiled.
Representatives of all the local Christian Churches gathered alongside special guests including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Orthodox world.
Pope Francis was represented by the Vatican’s representative to Israel and Palestine, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto.
A visit to the Holy Land is often described as discovering the fifth Gospel, a place where every stone and every street name brings to life the events of the Old and New Testaments. The city of Jerusalem is at the heart of that experience, where Christians can follow in the footsteps of Jesus throughout the events of Holy week and Easter, walking the way of the cross to the place of his crucifixion, burial and Resurrection.
For years though, the Edicule, or tiny chapel inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre housing Jesus’ tomb has been badly in need of repair, damaged by the crowds of pilgrims, by the pollution and by the high humidity levels.
In 2016, an intensive restoration programme began with a budget estimated at 3.5 million dollars. The three main Christian groups in charge of maintaining the holy sites, Greek Orthodox, Armenians and the Franciscan Custody financed the works, together with funding from the Greek government, the Palestinian Authority and from the Jordanian royal family.
The Vatican also contributed a million dollars to the project and to the restoration of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. That money will be much needed since the unveiling marked only the first stage of a much larger project to lift the floor, reset the pipes and shore up the foundations of the shrine.
For a site that was often in the news in past years for brawls that broke out between priests or monks arguing over who was in charge of which parts of the shrine, the rededication was a good news story of successful ecumenical cooperation.
During the next phase of work, further archaeological excavations may also be carried out. Given the significance of this site, which Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew visited together almost three years ago, who knows what kind of discoveries the archaeologists may bring to light. That spirit of cooperation and shared Christian witness was highlighted by speakers at the liturgy but it will continue to be much needed over the coming years. – Vatican Radio