The Pope Goes Home Today….

Pope Francis has returned to Rome.

Pope Francis at Yad Vashem

On May 26, the last day of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Holy Father stopped to pray at two sacred sites in Jerusalem:  the Western Wall, where he left the Our Father in Spanish tucked into one of the cracks; and  Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, a memorial to Israeli victims of terrorism.  There, he met with survivors of the Holocaust. As a flame was lit, Pope Francis prayed the following prayer:

“Adam, where are you?” (cf. Gen 3:9).
Where are you, o man? What have you come to?
In this place, this memorial of the Shoah, we hear God’s question echo once more:“Adam, where are you?”
This question is charged with all the sorrow of a Father who has lost his child.
The Father knew the risk of freedom; he knew that his children could be lost… yet perhaps not even the Father could imagine so great a fall, so profound an abyss!
Here, before the boundless tragedy of the Holocaust, That cry – “Where are you?” – echoes like a faint voice in an unfathomable abyss…

Adam, who are you? I no longer recognize you.
Who are you, o man? What have you become?
Of what horror have you been capable?
What made you fall to such depths?
Certainly it is not the dust of the earth from which you were made.
The dust of the earth is something good, the work of my hands.
Certainly it is not the breath of life which I breathed into you.
That breath comes from me, and it is something good (cf. Gen 2:7).

No, this abyss is not merely the work of your own hands, your own heart… Who corrupted you? Who disfigured you?
Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil?
Who convinced you that you were god? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god. Today, in this place, we hear once more the voice of God: “Adam, where are you?”

From the ground there rises up a soft cry: “Have mercy on us, O Lord!”
To you, O Lord our God, belongs righteousness; but to us confusion of face and shame (cf. Bar 1:15).
A great evil has befallen us, such as never happened under the heavens (cf. Bar 2:2). Now, Lord, hear our prayer, hear our plea, save us in your mercy. Save us from this horror.
Almighty Lord, a soul in anguish cries out to you.
Hear, Lord, and have mercy!
We have sinned against you. You reign for ever (cf. Bar 3:1-2).
Remember us in your mercy. Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done, to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, of having despised and destroyed our own flesh which you formed from the earth, to which you gave life with your own breath of life. Never again, Lord, never again!
“Adam, where are you?”
Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing.
Remember us in your mercy.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the reports from Jerusalem by guest blogger Cia Lakin over the past few days.  Cia and her husband Sandy are Detroit-area attorneys whose travels take them frequently to the Middle East.  There, they’ve built friendships in the local Catholic community; and Cia’s reports have reflected her familiarity with the people, the customs and the faith of the people in that region.

Here, Cia offers two special “backstage” photos from the Pope’s Mass in Bethlehem, taken as a very special favor for her by Fr. Piotr, from the Jerusalem kehilla (parish) of the Vicariate of St. James, from his privileged view as one of the concelebrants.  We see the sacred species prepared and waiting before the Mass, and the Holy Father at the altar.  Cia writes,

“I know Fr. only wanted to concentrate on the liturgy but he generously caught these two views to share with me.  Most who attended were too far away to see much of anything.”

If you’ve missed Cia’s earlier reports, check them out here and here and here.







And now, Cia Lakin’s final report during the Pope’s pilgrimage.

Pope Francis with Patriarch Bartholomew at the Holy Sepulchre

The Pope goes home today. Many Jerusalemites, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, greet this information with pleasure. Others – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – respond with indifference. “Where in Israel would I see the Pope?” asked one Christian shopkeeper in the Old City Souk. “He’s not going where anyone can see him.”

Tariq, a young Muslim man running the jewelry shop of his uncle Mohammed in the Souk, told me that he took yesterday (Sunday) off. Normally, all Muslim and Jewish shops in the souk would be doing business on the first workday of the week here, especially since this is still the busy tourist season before Jerusalem gets even hotter. Though Tariq was reluctant to complain, I discovered that shops had to close on Sunday afternoon so Israeli authorities could secure a wide perimeter around the Western Wall prior to the Pope’s visit there today.

Hagop, an Armenian Christian whose shop is nearby and with whom I shared a friendship with a well-known Armenian artist, was indifferent. His shop would normally be closed on Sunday anyway.

Orthodox Jews who normally say their morning prayers at Ha Kotel (The Wall) could not do so on Monday until the area reopened at 10:30 a.m., when His Holiness had gone. Roads were completely blocked anywhere the papal entourage might travel. Since Monday was a full day for Pope Francis, with a busy itinerary which had him traveling from one end of Jerusalem to the other – from the Dome of the Rock to Yad Vashem to Theodore Herzl’s grave and more – this translated into major headaches for Israelis trying to get to work or travel within the city.

Even those Catholics who did see him by traveling to Bethlehem found the experience to be challenging. Catholics left Jerusalem at 5:45 a.m., arrived four hours before the Mass, and waited as the sun rose over Manger Square. By the time of the Mass they were in full sun.

When one mother took her thirteen-year-old daughter off to find shade after the girl felt ill, Palestinian authorities refused to allow their return to the group and set them off on a path away from the Square with no possibility of return. After Mass, their leader found the group a shady place in a mall and asked them to wait while he located the two missing parishioners. As they settled, in a Palestinian police officer told the pastor the group couldn’t stay there “because they were speaking Hebrew.” They arrived home at 3 p.m. tired, parched, and sunburned, but happy to have been among those in Bethlehem. Of course, logistical and cultural difficulties didn’t dull their joy at attending the Papal Mass.


Sandy Lakin enjoying mint tea with the Lakins’ friend Nir, at his shop in the Old Town

Late Monday morning we sat in the Old City having mint tea with Nir, an engaging young entrepreneur whose mother is Muslim and whose father is an Armenian Christian. A couple days before we had stopped by his lovely, modern gift and jewelry shop on Christian Quarter Street in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City souk and chatted about the Pope’s forthcoming visit to Bethlehem. I’d mentioned that, other than a Mass in a Jordanian stadium, the only public liturgy scheduled while he was in Israel and the Palestinian Authority was the one in Manger Square on Sunday. “What do you think that means?” I asked, “He is observing the Christian holy day in the PA.” Nir said he didn’t know but he would think about it. He made us promise to come back Monday morning after the shops reopened to drink tea with him and share fresh pita and homemade hummus.

“I think the Pope has sent a strong political message,” Nir said with approval as we sipped the steaming, minty tea while sitting outside his shop Monday. “Before, the Palestinians cry all the time about their suffering, but they have no one to put an image to it. Their leaders haven’t really cared about the people before; they took the money meant to help the people and nothing was done. Arafat would cause problems with violence so the Israeli authorities would react and then Arafat could cry to the world. But he caused it.”

Nir, who seemed genuinely egalitarian and profoundly perplexed by the complexities of Middle Eastern policies, is pessimistic about solutions but does see a bright spot. He believes that in Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians finally have a leader who truly cares about the people. And, in the images of the Pope celebrating Mass on Sunday in the PA at Bethlehem, and praying at the ugly wall which divides Israel and the PA, the Palestinians finally have an image they can show the world.

For ourselves, we also had no access to the papal ceremonies in Israel. As far as we could tell there were no enthusiastic crowds lining parade routes because there were no parades. Normally busy streets were blockaded and empty. When we tried to cross a wide street near the Leonardo Hotel, which has served as press center and is across from one ceremonial site, unhappy armed officials studied us carefully and let us pass.

By midday Monday, the Pope appeared visibly tired on the Israeli coverage of his ceremonial events. He interacted briefly with a children’s choir formed to entertain him. Those permitted to be present at these events were vetted and limited.

The Holy Father went to Bethlehem on Sunday after visiting Jordan the day before, and by the time of the Manger Square Mass he seemed fatigued. Before Mass he spent some 15 minutes at a displaced persons camp, and after Mass he lunched with poor Palestinian families and members of the Franciscan Order at Casa Nova, a hospice and café run by the Franciscans.

On Monday at Yad Vashem, he was clearly wilting from the hectic schedule, though he delivered moving remarks during which he did not ask, “Where was God in the Shoah?” but “Where was Adam?” Where was the rest of the world, where were the descendants of the first man, when the Jewish people were suffering. By using the preferred term, Shoah, for what is widely called called the Holocaust, he endeared himself to his listeners.

For most Christians in Israel, he was no closer than the television; he might as well have been back in Rome. He met with no grieving Israeli families who have lost children in Palestinian rocket attacks or suicide bombings. He visited no centers where ordinary Israeli Catholics could touch him or kneel for his blessing. It seems clear that there was a carefully managed itinerary during his some 26 hours in Israel. Whether because of concerns about his stamina, about security, or for other reasons, this normally jovial man who is admired for his spontaneity and willingness to plunge into crowds has gone from one place to another accompanied by officials of the State and the religious sector, and local Catholics have watched from afar. Along with Fr. David Neuhaus SJ and members of his Vicariate of St. James, we must hope that the Pope returns so that those who remain faithful to him in the Jewish State of Israel can show how much they love him.


“We made it!” Pope Francis with Rabbi Skorka and the Islamic Omar Abboud (Photo: LaCiviltaCattolica)

The Pope’s plane departed Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv at 8 p.m. this evening. Shortly after his plane is on its way back to Rome, we will leave Jerusalem for Tel Aviv and our own flight home. Tomorrow, Jerusalem will be back to normal. It will remain to be seen whether this visit of the Holy Father will have any significant effect and – if so – what that might be.


  • Mary E.

    I know that Catholics in Israel were disappointed not to have opportunities to see Pope Francis up close, and I have to think, given the heavy security presence described in the reports, that the security challenges of holding a large public event in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem seemed too daunting. But even under better circumstances, ordinary Catholics have limited opportunities to get close enough to see the Pope during Papal visits. I was in Washington, DC when Pope Benedict visited, and I got a quick glimpse of him as he rode by in the Popemobile–I couldn’t get any closer. Tickets to the public Mass at the Nationals’ stadium were distributed by parish, but in my parish, there was one ticket for every 25 to 30 parishioners, and I was not one of the lucky ones. I’m not complaining–it was wonderful to have Benedict there–but I mainly saw him on television.

    It is true that Pope Francis has stopped to greet people in the crowds, but usually only for a few minutes here and there, so unless someone is standing up near the front, the chances of making personal contact with him are slim. And of course, the meetings with small groups are arranged beforehand, with participants chosen by the event organizers. Perhaps there is something about Pope Francis, his air of approachability, that makes people think that they’ll be able to get close enough to him to shake his hand or ask for his blessing, but I think that those moments are relatively rare.