By Daniella Cheslow, McClatchy Foreign Staff
JERUSALEM — The Cenacle, named for the Latin word for dinner, is testament to the layers of religious history in Jerusalem — and the trouble that competing faiths can cause.
According to tradition, it was in the Cenacle that Jesus ate a Passover feast the night before his Crucifixion, instituting the Christian sacrament of Holy Communion. But Christians aren’t the only ones who revere the site.
On the first floor is a Jewish shrine to King David, who’s said to be buried in a crypt below. The Cenacle’s stained-glass windows are filled with Arabic calligraphy, evidence that it once housed a mosque. A decommissioned minaret rises from the top floor to the sky.
When Pope Francis says Mass in the room Monday, the last day of a whirlwind tour of the Holy Land that will begin Saturday in Jordan, he’ll do it against a backdrop of recent protest rallies by observant Jews who are upset at what they fear is a Roman Catholic effort to assert control over the building. The norm has been for ritual Christian prayer to be held in the Cenacle only twice a year — on Pentecost and on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter.
That tension has been fueled by discussions between Israel and the Vatican over allowing regular Christian prayer hours in what’s also known as the Upper Room, where Jesus is said to have intoned the words now enshrined in Christian ritual when he shared bread — “This is my body” — and wine — “This is my blood” — with his disciples on the night before his execution.
As a result, the area around the sacred building, which Jews call the Tomb of David, has become a religious minefield. Christian clergy say they face rising hostility in the neighborhood.
“I’ve been spat at. I’ve been cursed in the street,” the Rev. David Neuhaus, the Latin patriarch’s vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics, told an Israeli radio station, TLV1. “I think most Christians who walk around in traditional Christian garb have met with this kind of behavior.”
Israeli officials scoff at the notion that the Vatican is about to take control of the Cenacle. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said talk of giving the Upper Room to the Vatican was “a crazy conspiracy theory.”
“We’ve been dealing with it for years and denying it time after time,” Palmor said. “We’ve been negotiating church prayers. … They want access for organized religious ritual, and it has nothing to do with property rights or ownership.”
AFP Photo/Andreas Solaro