When Rome Comes to Jerusalem: Papal Visit Causes High Anxiety in Israel

The intensity of the reaction to the current papal visit is likely due to the mixed bag of perplexing messages emanating from the “holy see”, as well as from the seats of government in Israel, and those from mouths of the media.

What the Vatican and international press are saying and what the government of Israel is not saying produces high anxiety in Israel, which is matched only by a level of anxious anticipation and optimism in Rome. 

As of this writing, protests are organized, bloggers are busy, grassroots organizations are on alert, rabbis are being silenced and restraining orders have been issued. The international press is salivating in anticipation of an incident and the Israeli government has shifted into damage control mode.

NBC news is reporting that, Israel Denies 'Baseless' Rumor It Will Give 'Last Supper Room' to Pope, while the Huffington post claims ”Conspiracy Theories Swirl Around Pope Francis' Visit To Holy Land”.

There is currently a flurry of government denials and a lot of finger-pointing at “Orthodox extremists” and “right-wing media sources” who are being held accountable for fueling those “baseless rumors” and “conspiracy theories”, and for ruining the conciliatory atmosphere that is supposed to mark the upcoming visit of Pope Francis. While JewishIsrael abhors hooliganism,  we feel that vandalism and threats of violence should not be confused with legitimate public concerns and the right to know and protest.  JewishIsrael feels that it is high time to expose the sources of the provocative reports which so many Jews find upsetting. The truth is very telling, albeit not that surprising.

It is the Vatican itself and their official mouthpieces and representatives which have orchestrated a relentless campaign to acquire control of the Last Supper Room, and who last year announced they had indeed acquired administrative control and rights to worship at that site, albeit not the type of sovereignty they have been seeking:

Vatican and Israel reach agreement on taxes and the Cenacle --- La Stampa-Vatican Insider, May 28 2013

Upper Room on Mt. Zion To Open for Catholic Worship--- Press Release by The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, June 8, 2013

  • The Israel Press reported on a done deal which allowed “Vatican representatives a special modicum of control over the site":

Vatican, Israel reach historic deal on Last Supper site----Israel Hayom January30, 2013


  • In 2009 Israel’s President Shimon Peres reportedly formulated plans to give the Vatican sovereignty of Christian holy sites in Israel – including the Cenacle:

Peres wants to hand over Christian sites in Israel to Vatican ---Haaretz, May 4, 2004

Christian holy sites in Israel 'could be controlled by the Vatican'---The Telegraph, May 4, 2009

  • Last month (April 2014) Vatican news sources again strongly hinted that Peres, in a meeting with the Pope in Rome, had indicated that Israel would grant the Vatican special authority (not sovereignty) over the Cenacle and the rights for Catholic worship at that site.

President Peres’ invitation to Francis: “Israel can’t wait to meet you”--- Vatican Insider/LaStampa, April 30, 2014


While  fully and frequently denying a transfer of sovereignty and ownership of King David’s Tomb to the Vatican, Israeli government officials evaded addressing the issue of Franciscan claims of administrative control and the reported opening of the area to regularly scheduled Catholic worship.

In November 2005, this writer wrote to the London Times to try and sort out the truth amid Vatican claims and Israeli government denials of a deal over the Cenacle shrine. The answer received throws light on today’s situation, as it indicates that whether or not the Vatican receives rights to worship and a modicum of control over the room above the Tomb of King David, The Church will likely continue its unrelenting efforts to gain full control and ownership of the site in the future. 

As such, the public should be vigilant and informed, and demand that the political and spiritual leadership of the State of Israel establish parameters for religious freedom and worship which will not compromise the sovereignty and integrity of the Jewish state and Israel’s very own holy places and which will not undercut Jewish foundations or tread on halachic fences.


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