Heads up: Don’t read this blog if you’re hungry

By Judith Sudilovsky

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — When Casa Nova head Chef Elias Akroush, 33, learned that Pope Francis would be lunching with five Palestinian families at the pilgrim guesthouse where he directs the kitchen, he knew he would turn to his best friend, pastry chef Peter Korfiatis, 48, to help him with the dessert.

Both men are Catholic, and while this is the first time Akroush will serve a pope, Kortiatis also prepared a desert for St. John Paul II during his pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The two friends started working together May 24 to prepare the meal that will feed 70 people and fit the customary request of the pope: that the food be simple and representative of the local cuisine.

Akroush said he wanted to make a special meal for “the best pope,” with fresh local produce highlighting the areas’ herbs and cheeses.

Chef Elias Akroush, 33, and pastry chef Peter Korfiatis, 48, prepare lunch for Pope Francis in the Casa Nova guesthouse in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 24. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Chef Elias Akroush, 33, and pastry chef Peter Korfiatis, 48, prepare lunch for Pope Francis in the Casa Nova guesthouse in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 24. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

The two men finalized the menu two weeks ago: a first course of cracked wheat patties stuffed with cheese and herbs, a farmer’s salad of tomatoes, onions, the traditional za’atar herb spice blend, olive oil, and figs stuffed with ground beef, pine nuts, almonds and walnuts. A date sauce will be served on the side.

The second course will consist of penne pasta with a tomato sauce as per the pope’s request, then Akroush will serve the Argentine pope a beef fillet with grilled vegetables and herbs and a baked potato.

“This is all that we farm in Palestine,” he said. “I am not afraid of serving him meat. I know he is very humble.”

Dessert will be homemade baklava rolls prepared by Korfiatis with crisp filo dough stuffed with walnuts, pistachios, cinnamon, rosewater, sugar and honey, then soaked in a special syrup of water, honey and lemon. On the side there will be three different flavors of his friend’s homemade Italian gelato ice creams: chocolate, pure milk, and a special pistachio flavor Akroush developed with a master ice cream maker from Italy.

“For me it is a big honor to make the dessert plate for Pope Francis,” Korfiatis said. “It is a very unique day for a cook, and it is a very unique person visiting us.”

Korfiatis said he hoped he would have the chance to shake the pontiff’s hand.

Akroush said he was not nervous preparing the meal. The only difficulty, he said, was having to keep things simple.

“Everything is under control. Though it will be difficult, it will be done with love and pleasure. It is a way for the pope to know how much we care for him and how much we love him,” said Akroush.

Tight security, traffic jams concern Israelis, Palestinians

By Judith Sudilovsky

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Pope Francis’ Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem will be the only opportunity for local faithful to participate in the papal visit.

Pilgrims filled Manger Square for Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 13, 2009. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Pilgrims filled Manger Square for Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 13, 2009. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

While there is room for about 9,000 people in the square, locals are wondering about the need for tickets to attend the Mass.

Despite the complaints, Jamal Khader, rector of the Latin Patriarchate seminary in Beit Jalla and a spokesman for the pope’s visit, said tickets are necessary to maintain order.

The precious tickets have been distributed throughout different geographical areas, including about 1,000 in Galilee, where both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI celebrated large-scale Masses. Church officials also requested permits for about 600 Christian families from Gaza to attend.

One of the families from Gaza will be lucky enough to lunch with Pope Francis after the liturgy. Another will be present at the Presidential Palace during a courtesy visit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Of note is that the Gaza parish has a unique connection with the pope: both Father Jorge Hernandez, pastor, and one of the sisters serving the parish are from Argentina.

Palestinian Christians also will be faced with what they called a “possible curfew” in Jerusalem during the pope’s visit. Some have sent a letter voicing their concerns to Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, papal nuncio to Israel and Cyprus and apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

The Vatican’s Fides news agency reported that some members of St. Savior Parish in the Old City of Jerusalem wrote to the nuncio opposing any steps that would prevent them from greeting Pope Francis in the streets.

“We see attempts by the Israeli occupation to impose a curfew on the streets, including the Christian Quarter, during the visit,” the letter said, according to Fides. “The curfew is yet another attempt by the occupying power to deny our existence. It is unacceptable for the pope to pass along the narrow streets of the Christian Quarter, yet find it devoid of any signs of life and the faithful. As local church communities we are the hosts of the Holy Fathers in our city. We do not want to be excluded from a historic religious event, and want to offer our good will and cooperation towards the visit’s success.”

Some Jewish residents of Jerusalem have been grousing about the expected traffic jams and travel delays they will encounter when the pope arrives. As has become his custom, Pope Francis has requested not to travel in a security vehicle but rather in a simple car.

Israeli police have said that security precautions will be tight during the visit.

 

In their words: Hopes for Pope Francis’ Holy Land visit

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis has emphasized that the main purpose of his May 24-26 visit to the Holy Land is ecumenical, but many in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories are hoping he will use his diplomatic savvy to make some strong political statements. Here, in their own words, are what some people are hoping for:

A Syrian refugee in Jordan uses are to help process memories. (CNS/Dale Gavlak)

A Syrian refugee in Jordan uses art to help process memories. (CNS/Dale Gavlak)

“We hope he will say a word of faith to the Christians, that he will address us with his words to encourage us like his pope predecessors. The second word (we hope to hear) is of justice and peace, addressing the political situation. We are waiting for a word of justice for Israel and Palestinians alike, and then we will pray as well. He will make out of this wish a prayer for all, Jews, Christians, Muslim and Druze and all who live in the Holy Land so this Holy Land will truly become the Holy Land, a land of holiness, of security and peace and reconciliation to all those who live here.” — Jerusalem’s retired Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

“Everything is political here. We would like for the pope, who is also a high political figure, to use his diplomatic capacity in a situation when the peace process is almost completely halted … so that world governments will respect international law which should be … a point of reference for the process.” — Hind Khoury, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center executive board member and former Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs

“All Palestinians are waiting to welcome the pope. We need a message of justice, of peace of encouragement of hope for the future. We are living in a difficult situation politically with nothing going on but (Israeli) settlements, and with no near perspectives for peace. … We need … the pope is to strengthen us and to encourage us.” — Father Jamal Khader, Beit Jalla seminary rector, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

“We hope the pope will bring peace and stability to our troubled region. We long to see Syria return to normal. We Christians want to find encouragement from the Holy Father being in our midst.” — Abu Reda, Syrian businessman from Damascus living in Jordan

- – -

Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Al-Um-Kundun, Jordan.

19th-century frescos uncovered in Jerusalem Catholic hospital

A broken pipe in this room at St. Louis French Hospital in Jerusalem revealed 19th-century frescoes depicting Crusader-inspired art. (CNS/Courtesy St. Louis French Hospital)

A broken pipe in this room at St. Louis French Hospital in Jerusalem led hospital administrators to discover 19th-century frescoes depicting Crusader era- inspired images. (CNS/Courtesy St. Louis French Hospital)

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM — Riding on the wave of interest of all things Catholic prior to Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land, the Israel Antiquities Authority invited journalists to take a peek at a series of fascinating 19th-century frescos depicting the city’s Crusader history discovered at the St. Louis French Hospital.

The hospital is located next to the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center where the pope will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Normally the hospital does not allow journalists to walk around its halls in order to protect the privacy of patients.

The frescos were discovered in the course of reorganizing  a storeroom. In addition, a water pipe had burst in the building earlier, loosening the modern plaster and paint on a wall revealing 19th-century paintings.

“When we got everything out we saw this beauty-filled room. We are blessed to be in a place like this, so full of history. We have to maintain it for the people who come after us even if we don’t have money to fully restore it,” said hospital director Sister Monika Dullman as she showed a journalist around.

She noted that even though the narrow doorways of the hospital are sometimes unsuited for wheelchairs and hospital beds, it is unthinkable to widen them because it would mean destroying some of the paintings.

In the wake of the discovery, conservators with the Israeli Antiquities Authority assisted the sisters in cleaning and stabilizing some of the paintings. The conservators told the sisters the paintings are in the style characteristic of monumental church decorations of the 19th century, with close attention to small details and motifs from the world of medieval art.

The building itself is a two-story structure built in the Renaissance and Baroque style, and is named for St. Louis IX, king of France and leader of the seventh crusade (1248-1254). The hospital it houses was founded by French Count Comte Marie Paul Amedee de Piellat, a Catholic who visited Jerusalem many times in the second half of the 19th century.

De Piellat built the hospital between 1879 and 1896. He considered himself to be a descendant of the Crusaders. He chose to build the hospital at the historic area where the army of the Norman King Tancred camped before brutally breaching Jerusalem’s walls with his allies.

Also an artist, de Piellat decorated the walls and ceiling of the hospital with large paintings portraying Crusader knights in their armor and brandishing swords alongside the heraldry symbols of the French knights’ families. He added the symbols of the Crusader cities, symbols, military orders and monastic orders.

The count later went on to build the Notre Dame Center as a hostel for Christian pilgrims.

When the Turks took over the building during World War I, they covered the frescos with black paint. At the end of the war the count returned to the hospital and devoted the rest of his life to removing the black paint. He died in the hospital in 1925.

Hospital administrators said they have no intention of turning the facility into a tourist attraction, preferring that the “humble and quiet sacred work” of caring for the sick continue undisturbed.

Remembering murdered Jesuit confrere, pope appeals for peace in Syria

UPDATE: Full story on the pope’s remarks and more.

VATICAN CITY — Here is our translation of Pope Francis’ remarks today about the murder of Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt and the continuing war in Syria:

Monday in Homs, Syria, Father Frans van der Lugt, my 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit confrere, was assassinated. He arrived in Syria about 50 years ago and always did his best for everyone with graciousness and love, and so was loved and held in esteem by Christians and Muslims.

Father Frans van der Lugt (CNS/Reuters)

Father Frans van der Lugt (CNS/Reuters)

His brutal murder filled me with with deep sadness and made me think again of all the people who suffer and are dying in that martyred country, already too long a victim of a bloody conflict that continues to sow death and destruction. I also remember the numerous people who have been kidnapped — Christians and Muslims, Syrians and people from other countries, among whom there are bishops and priests. We ask the Lord to grant that they may quickly return to their loved ones and families and communities.

From my heart, I ask you all to join my prayer for peace in Syria and in the region, and I launch a heartfelt appeal to Syrian leaders and to the international community: Silence the weapons! Put an end to the violence! No more war! No more destruction! May there be respect for humanitarian law, care for the people who need humanitarian assistance and may the desired peace be reached through dialogue and reconciliation.”

Pope Francis gives first ‘red carpet’ interview

VATICAN CITY — So far, Pope Francis has done impromptu interviews with journalists on a plane, in written correspondence and at his Vatican residence.

Now he’s done his first “red carpet” interview — responding to a TV reporter who squeezed through the throng and shouted a question over the cheering crowds.

floral carpet assisi san rufino

Screen-grab from Vatican television (CTV) coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the Cathedral of San Rufino in Assisi.

It happened in Assisi when the pope was greeting people gathered outside the Cathedral of San Rufino. However, instead of an actual red carpet, he walked along a colorful carpet made of flowers.

The clip, which aired last night on a political talk show, goes like this:

The Italian TV reporter asks:

“Your Holiness, is there hope for Italy?”

The pope approaches the reporter and replies:

“There is always hope because the Lord gives us hope, the Lord gives us the strength to go on.”

Riding his wave of good luck, the reporter continues:

“What do we have to do in order to have hope?”

The pope says:

“Well, look for it, and the Lord will inspire you!” [gives a thumbs up]

To see the clip, find it here.

 

 

Assisi: what the pope would have said

SUN SETS NEAR BASILICA IN ASSISI, ITALY

The Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) (Nov. 2007)

VATICAN CITY — We all know how the pope likes to set aside his prepared text and speak heart-to-heart to his audience. It looks like he will be doing a bit of the same during his Oct. 4 trip to Assisi.

While the things he says off-the-cuff will grab the headlines, probably not much  coverage will be given to what he had prepared on paper to say.

The Vatican says the pope’s prepared texts are still valid and can be published as if they had been delivered, so we’ll update this blog throughout the day with “What the pope would have said” with some excerpts from his written speeches. Continue reading

Assisi schedule & more

St. Francis of Assisi from detail of Cimabue fresco

St. Francis of Assisi is depicted in this fresco by Giovanni Cimabue between 1278-80, in the Basilica of St. Francis Basilica in Assisi, Italy. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

VATICAN CITY — On the feast of St. Francis of Assisi tomorrow, Pope Francis will be visiting the birthplace of his namesake and following in the saint’s footsteps.

For those who want to follow the all-day event Oct. 4 online, the papal schedule is below. The official liturgical booklet hasn’t been posted yet, but if it is, we’ll have it for you here.

And don’t forget that the Franciscans in Assisi have a live cam on the saint’s tomb and an email address to send your prayer requests to the friars there latuapreghiera@sanfrancesco.org.

Here is a general rundown of the pope’s rather packed itinerary:

7 a.m. (Rome time; 1 a.m. EDT) — Pope leaves the Vatican by helicopter.

7:45 a.m. — He lands in Assisi.

8 a.m. — Pope Francis meets with young people with severe disabilities at their church-run residence, “Serafico Institute.” He will deliver a short address. Continue reading

Video: Missionary pope: Francis in Brazil

Catholic News Service looks at the impact of the first Latin American pope’s visit to his native continent.

“Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests”

Pope Francis told reporters on his flight from Rio to Rome that women cannot be ordained as priests, but that they are “more important than bishops and priests.”

What does that mean? Earlier this year, the papal theologian explained the theology behind these statements in an interview with CNS.

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