The Catholic Landscape of Jerusalem

Part I: The Latin Catholic Church

This article courtesy of Travelujah

Last time, I began this new column by mentioning the complex and sometimes confusing religious landscape of Jerusalem, and I proposed a short overview of the churches in Jerusalem to help us understand “who’s who,” beginning with the Orthodox Churches.  Today and next time, I would like to give you a quick “bird’s eye view” of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.

Mass at St Savior's Church in JerusalemThe reality of the Catholic Church in Israel is no less complicated than that of the Orthodox churches, because it includes many communities, orders and rites.  Yet there is a key difference between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in this respect:

The Orthodox churches are a group of loosely affiliated communities where each one is essentially autonomous and independent from the other, each with their own patriarch and/or bishops.  This is why we speak of the Orthodox churches as “autocephalous” (meaning “self-headed”).  They are usually divided along the lines of their national identity. And so today we have in Jerusalem the Greek Orthodox church, the Armenian Orthodox church, the Russian Orthodox church, etc…

By contrast, the Catholic communities are all members of one Church – the Catholic Church.  Despite a great variety of rites, customs and traditions, all are united in faith and worship in the Catholic (universal) family under the successor of Peter and bishop of Rome, the pope.

This is why it’s not really correct to speak of the Catholic Church as the “Roman” Catholic Church, because although her center is in Rome, and her largest and best known rite is the “Roman” or “Latin” rite, the Catholic Church also includes a number of oriental rites.  These churches are Catholic in every respect (so in communion with the pope in Rome), but their traditions and prayers are closer to those of the Eastern Orthodox Christians than those of the Latin Catholics.

Let’s look now at the Western or “Latin” Catholic Church.  The two most important “Latin” Catholic entities in the Holy Land are the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Custody of the Holy Land.  

The Latin Patriarchate was first established in 1099 during the period of the Crusades, but it was forced to flee Jerusalem some 90 years later with the defeat of the Crusaders.  The Latin hierarchy left the Holy Land altogether in 1291 with the end of the Crusader Kingdom.

In 1342, Pope Clement VI entrusted the Holy Places to the Franciscan order, who have remained here ever since as the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.  Until today, the Franciscans have the custody of the most important holy sites today in Israel: you will find them at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (shared with other confessions), the Basilica of the Agony on the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (shared with the Armenian and Greek Orthodox Churches), the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Mount Tabor, Capernaum, and many more.  The headquarters of the Custody is St. Savior’s Monastery and Church, situated just inside the New Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.

After five and a half centuries of absence from the Holy Land, the Latin Patriarchate was reestablished in 1847 by Pope Pius IX.  Today, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem (currently Mons. Fouad Twal) is the diocesan bishop of all Latin Catholics in the Archdiocese of Jerusalem.  The seat of the Latin Patriarchate is just a short walk from St. Savior’s walking towards Jaffa Gate, on the Latin Patriarchate road.

In addition to the Franciscan Custody and Latin Patriarchate, there are nearly one hundred other Latin Catholic religious orders, congregations, and societies of apostolic life in the Holy Land - some 31 orders and congregations of men and 67 orders and congregations of women.  Among the former are the Missionaries of Africa (or White Fathers, located at St. Anne's Church in the Muslim Quarter), the Legionaries of Christ (Notre Dame Center), the Assumptionists (St. Peter in Gallicantu), the Salesians of Don Bosco (Ratisbonne Institute in the new city), and Jesuits (Pontifical Biblical Institute near the King David Hotel).

This concludes our brief introduction of the Latin Catholic Church in Israel.  Next time, we will look at the Eastern Catholic Churches.

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