History repeating

  • January 9, 2014

In an elegant touch, Pope Francis announced his trip to the Holy Land on Jan. 5, the precise 50th anniversary of the historic meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras.

“Historic” is used rather too lightly too often, frequently applied to matters that will hardly be of interest tomorrow, let alone decades hence. But the 1964 visit of Pope Paul VI to Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem was one of the most important moments in the history of the modern papacy. It is fittingly commemorated by the visit announced by the current Holy Father Francis.

When Pope Paul VI was elected in June 1963, no pope had left Italy in more than a century. Indeed, when Pope John XXIII had made some pilgrimages outside of Rome, but within Italy, it was considered adventurous. Within six months, in the context of the Second Vatican Council, the new pope decided he would go — “after 20 centuries” — to that place from which Peter set out for Rome. Paul VI would leave the Eternal City to visit the Holy City, the head of the Church of Rome would visit the mother Church of Jerusalem. 

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