Vatican Radio anticipates Israel relinquishing control of Cenacle Shrine on Mt. Zion

This report is an update to JewishIsrael’s January report, Pope to get seat over the Tomb of King David:

Vatican Radio, which serves as "the voice of the Pope and the Church in Dialogue with the world" is making what seems to be a rather antagonistic push for the Cenacle Shrine above the tomb of King David.

On March 27th, Vatican Radio News broadcast a show titled: "Our Christian roots: Cenacle, room of Last Supper".  The article accompanying the link for the broadcast notes that:

"The Cenacle had once belonged to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which still claims ownership of the property.  It's been in the hands of the Israeli authorities since 1948."

But it is what Father Peter Stravinskas said on the airwaves, in the first 2 minutes plus of an interview with Vatican Radio's Tracey McClure, which is most disturbing:

"It is unfortunate that this site of the lord's last supper is not accessible to Christians for worship.  It is controlled by the Israeli civil authorities.  In fact when Pope John Paul went to Jerusalem there had to be a special permission for him to be able to celebrate mass in the Cenacle. There is some talk now, of course, that perhaps there's a negotiation going on in order to return the Cenacle to the care of the Church"


Dem's fightin words!

There's a new Pope sitting in Rome and the message coming from Vatican Radio hardly resonates the "open", "friendly", “thoughtful", "constructive" and "cordial" tone that we've been consistently hearing about in reports over the past few years from Jewish, International, and Catholic news sources who have been reporting on Israel-Vatican bilateral negotiations over tax and property issues.  In fact, it is a far cry from the optimistic note recently sounded by outgoing Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, who described the nearly completed accords as, “nothing short of a milestone in the relationship.”

As JewishIsrael reported at the end of January, there are conflicting reports over the future of the Upper Room (Cenacle Shrine) which is located above the Traditional Tomb of King David and sits on Diaspora Yeshiva grounds. Whereas The Jerusalem Post claimed that the two sides have "essentially decided to agree to disagree on the matter", Israel Hayom reported that the agreement will grant the Pope "an official seat" in the Upper Room, as well as giving the Vatican "a special modicum of control over the site"Algemeiner reported that Israel "did not give up sovereignty", but "will allow the Vatican control over the site".

A day after JewishIsrael went public with our January 2013 report," Pope to get seat over the Tomb of King David", Arutz 7 ran an "exclusive" by Italian Journalist Giulio Meotti  titled, "A Seat for the Pope at King David's Tomb".

In mid-February, a few days after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, the popular blogspot Clerical Whispers maintained that, "the Cenacle is they key to reaching an agreement" and remains the sticking point in the negotiations.
For the record, the Chief Rabbinate's office expressed a position on the matter back in 2009:

"According to halacha, it is prohibited for any person to assist in transferring property in the land of Israel to the Vatican in the holy places that are the heart and essence of the people of Israel."

Which brings us to the Israeli government…

The official position of the Jewish state, as reported in the Israeli press over the last few years, has maintained that "Israel will not give up sovereignty over any of the [Christian] holy places,”, and that Israel "will remain firm in its stance to maintain ownership of the room in which the Last Supper is believed to be held, which is on Mount Zion next to King David's tomb."

However, there have been hints dropped here and there which infer that, "certain gestures might be made to provide the Holy See with leeway".  And when it comes to accommodating Christendom, Daniel Ayalon has always taken the lead. In fact, it is Daniel Ayalon who has been leading the bilateral negotiations with his Vatican counterpart Monsignor Ettore Balestrero.


Negotiators fall from grace?

While not appearing to be directly connected to the issue at hand, it is interesting to note that the heads of the milestone-setting bilateral negotiating teams for both the Vatican and Israel are facing sudden career changes. Remarkably both chief negotiators and Pope Benedict XVI disappeared from the scene a mere hairsbreadth away from the signing of an historic deal which was reportedly to take place this June in Rome.

On 22 February 2013, in the last week of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, the Vatican Undersecretary for Relations with States, was transferred from Rome to Colombia. While the move is being billed as a "promotion" for Balestrero , rumors are rife.

Last December, prior to elections for a new Israeli government, Daniel Ayalon was ousted from the Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset list and consequently lost his position as Deputy Foreign Minister.

Likud MK Zeev Elkin is the new Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.  At this time, Jewishisrael does not know who will be leading the Israeli delegation at the upcoming plenary meeting scheduled to take place in Vatican City in June.


Peres to visit Vatican on April 30

It is telling that Shimon Peres is scheduled to meet with the Pope on April 30th

Back in May 2009, Ha’aretz ran headlines that Peres wants to hand over Christian sites in Israel to Vatican.

The article stated that Peres was pressing the government to agree to the Vatican's request that Israel surrender control of six religious sites, among them the Cenacle on Mount Zion. 

Peres and Mt. Zion were the featured cartoon, "the Friars are Coming", when our website,, launched to coincide with the arrival to Israel of Pope Benedict XVI back in May 2009.



From the Watchtowers of Zion: all eyes on the evangelical Pope

The Jewish community is always unduly grateful and fascinated when a Roman Catholic Pope presents himself as a potential friend rather than an inquisitor. And so, the expected accolades came gushing forth from Israeli leadership even before the Pope could lift his ringed figure in a gesture of good will.

Always ahead of his time, President Shimon Peres was downright messianic when he declared:

"The new pope will be welcomed in the Holy Land with love and appreciation by Jews, Muslims and Christians as one."

On Fox News radio, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Shlomo Riskin, was less inclusive in his reactions to the new Pope. While Rabbi Riskin left Muslims out in the cold, he did make a plug for interfaith oneness:

“In this war, Jews and Christians stand together. We represent one religious platform.”

And speaking of "one religious platform", Evangelicals who have had their issues with the "Pagan" Catholic Church, and Catholics who have been losing great numbers to Pentecostals, have new hope with the new Pope:

"Bergoglio is a great man of God. We [evangelicals] have had a good relationship with him for many years. We think that a new time is coming for the Catholic Church, because our brother wants to promote evangelism."  - Christianity Today

"Now, with our Holy Father Francis, we are witnessing a missionary Pope, perhaps like few in history. He has done nothing but evangelize from the moment he stepped out onto that balcony at St Peters. His words and his actions have set the tone.  There is no doubt in this deacon's mind that he is leading us all to embrace the missionary moment in which we live. He is calling us to live our lives in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. He is sending us out in response to the command of Jesus to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. (Mk 16:15, Lk. 14:23, Mt. 28:19)"  -Catholic Online

Pope Francis is a Jesuit and as NBC News noted when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the papal reigns:

"From the beginning, the Jesuits have been aggressively evangelistic."

True to his calling Pope Francis has wasted no time in giving Christian and International news agencies reason to spread the word:

New Pope Praises Benedict, Asks Cardinals To Evangelize

Pope Francis Is an Evangelical Catholic, Catholic Theologian Says

Evangelical Pope Francis Calls Us to Live in the Heart of the Churc...

World Evangelical Alliance Congratulates Pope Francis

Argentine Evangelicals Say Bergoglio as Pope Francis Is 'Answer to ...
We Are Living in a New Missionary Age and We are the Missionaries

What a missionary Pope means for the Jewish community in Israel and the Diaspora remains to be seen. In the name of furthering Jewish-Catholic relations, the two previous Popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, downplayed the Church's conversionary mission to the Jews - although there were notable lapses.


Church monopoly on Mt. Zion

Jerusalem's Mount Zion is already "Gospel Central", thanks to the State of Israel's no holds barred definition of "religious freedom". Mount Zion is presently serving as a major conduit to spreading the false message of jesus as lord and savior to Jews and Gentiles throughout the world.  The competitive missionary networks Daystar Television and Trinity Broadcasting (TBN) have both purchased grand studios on Mount Zion and are targeting Israeli, as well as international audiences. Missionary ministry Succat Hallel on Mt. Zion sponsors mega- jesus concerts for Israeli youth. And messianic congregations are situated among several large church landmarks - all in a relatively small area.

"I'm holding in my hand a signed agreement that says that Daystar will be issued a television channel for the nation of Israel that will go into every home in the land of Israel 24-hours-a-day, 7 days a week, preaching the gospel 100% of the time." - Marcus Lamb, President and CEO of Daystar Television network

"The main thing we want to do is help sponsor what we call Messianic Jews, or Jews that have received Jesus Christ as their Messiah …We want to do some Hebrew language programs to reach out to Jews and entice them to read the word of God and become what we call a completed Jew…" - Paul Crouch, President and Chairman of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN)

"Christian broadcasters boast to their viewers that they are seeing a record number of Jews convert to Christianity. ’The harvest is coming in so fast,’ Crouch said." - Daystar, TBN ready for Messiah in Jerusalem, Los Angeles Times October 1, 2012

"Who wants to see a revolution in Israel? We want to see a revolution of people knowing jesus… " - Rick Ridings, Director of Succat Hallel on Mt. Zion, addressing a crowd of youth at a concert in Tel Aviv (2012)


What's in a name?

That Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose "Francis" as his papal name has excited both Jesuits and Franciscans in Israel. Francis Xavier was the first Jesuit missionary, and Franciscans belong to a religious order which identifies with Saint Francis of Assisi. In addition the Franciscans consider themselves the official "custodians of the Holy Places" and at one time were bestowed the title “Guardian of Mount Zion " by a previous Pope centuries ago.  So they have especially high expectations that this Pope will take up their cause.

David Mark Neuhaus is a Jewish convert to Catholicism and an Israeli Jesuit Catholic priest who serves as the Patriarchal Vicar for the Hebrew-speaking Catholic communities in Israel.  Neuhaus recently appeared in a video produced by the Franciscan Media Center and expressed his excitement over the appointment of the new Pope and the intrigue of the name Francis.

In an article published exactly one year ago in the international media, "Vatican, Israel Spar Over Disputed Last Supper Site", Neuhaus expressed his aspirations for the Cenacle Shrine above the traditional tomb of King David:

"The Vatican says this building belongs to the church, since friars bought it hundreds of years ago. 'The place is so essential, so much an integral part of the Christian narrative,' says the Rev. David Neuhaus, a Catholic vicar in Jerusalem. 'Needless to say, it's a dream that we could pray there in regular fashion like other holy places'."


Protecting a legacy

JewishIsrael contacted the Diaspora Yeshiva and asked Rabbi Yitzchak Goldstein how Catholic Mass would affect the Yeshiva and those praying at the Tomb of King David (located directly below the Upper Room).He told us in no uncertain terms that "it would be halachically problematic for Jews to pray and study in the immediate area".

In addition to prayers and study, something else in the immediate area would be disturbed by the sounds of prayers to jesus and Gregorian chants. Israel's first Holocaust Museum, predating Yad Vashem, is maintained by the Diaspora Yeshiva. There you can walk among 1000 tablets of destroyed Jewish communities, some of which represent 16,000 bereaved families.

The Chief Rabbinate chose Mount Zion as the site for "the Chamber of the Holocaust" because of its proximity to David's Tomb and the message of hope that it would bring to the many bereaved.

The Diaspora Yeshiva represents the only significant Jewish presence on Mount Zion. It stands as a thriving Torah institution and educational campus which is preserving and protecting Jewish interests on Mount Zion.*

Judaism is a unique faith with exceptional obligations. We cannot be asked to import and adopt standards and prototypes of freedom of worship which trample Jewish sensitivities and the aspirations and values of the Jewish people in their own land. The leadership of the State of Israel should establish parameters for religious freedom which do not compromise the integrity of the Jewish state, undercut Jewish foundations or tread on halachic fences.

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JewishIsrael is privileged to share some images from an outstanding photo collection of the Diaspora Yeshiva and its grounds on Mount Zion. The photographs were taken by professional photographer Richard C. Lewis, when he and his wife Marilyn (Micki) were on one of their many trips to Israel. The following images are a small sampling of that collection and are copyrighted material, used here with the Lewis’s permission.

*The Diaspora Yeshiva is trying to raise funds in order to renew their 49 year lease which they signed in 1967. Rabbi Yitchak Goldstein told us that the Yeshiva is making progress towards obtaining the necessary funds and in negotiating a new lease.

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