Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem: "Mass" or "Meeting?"

In an anticipated moment for ecumenism with the eastern churches, Pope Francis will meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during his three-day trip in late May. He made the announcement today, the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras.

Visits to Bethlehem in the West Bank and Amman, Jordan, had already been revealed. The announcement of his plans in Jerusalem was what many were anticipating. A few weeks ago Israeli officials were concerned that Pope Francis might not celebrate Mass in Jerusalem during his trip. Now in today's reports there seems to be ambiguity about the function of the meeting at the Holy Sepulchre.

Secular media (AP) is reporting it as a "Mass," but the announcement at today's Angelus was not so specific:

Presso il Santo Sepolcro celebreremo un Incontro Ecumenico con tutti i rappresentanti delle Chiese cristiane di Gerusalemme, insieme al Patriarca Bartolomeo di Costantinopoli.

To my knowledge -- and fluent Italian speakers feel free to correct me -- an ecumenical "Incontro" (meeting, encounter, gathering) is not a typical way of describing a Mass. By my reading, then, Jerusalem will get its big Francis event, but that event will be ecumenical and not a Mass.

This does not take away from excitement around the event, of course. There is an appropriateness for a Mass in Bethlehem and an ecumenical service of prayer in Jerusalem. With Bartholomew's well-known ecological sensibility and Francis's stated interest in authoring an encyclical on such issues, can we expect some kind of joint declaration along those lines? On second thought, wiith Pope Francis, it's foolish to make predictions.

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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