JERUSALEM — The bureaucracy of the Christian community in Jerusalem is more complicated than you’d think it would be.
For example: It’s a curious fact of Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land this weekend that, while his ceremonial meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Eastern Orthodox Church is to take place in front of representatives of Jerusalem's thirteen traditional churches, no one has technically invited them yet.
"People have found out about this by word of mouth," says David Neuhaus, the vicar of the Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Jerusalem. With a wry smile, he adds, "There have been no invitations. Not even email."
Even more intriguing, it is not entirely clear who will greet the pontiff when he arrives at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the meeting. "The superior of the church will welcome the pope, or maybe the custos," Neuhaus says, referring to the local head of the church, a figure like an abbot, and the Custodian of the Holy Places, one of the three top Catholic prelates in Jerusalem.
Why no invitations? It's unclear who would issue them.
There are thirteen Christian churches traditionally recognized by Jerusalem’s civil authorities. For centuries, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which believers hold to be the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection, has been governed by an uneasy "simultaneum" shared by the Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Catholic churches. Oh, and the Coptic, Ethiopian and Syriac churches have some part of it, too.
Fistfights and brawls break out every once in a while among the rival monks and priests. In 2008, a particularly testy year, the police were called to the church several times. In April, Greek and Armenian priests got into a fistfight. This, in turn, came only months after another incident, when a pre-Christmas cleaning in the Church of the Nativity "turned ugly" when "robed Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests went at each other with brooms and tones."
Then again in November, riot police were called in to quell a major punch-up among monks .
The pope's visit should be considerably more decorous. It will also highlight the remarkable diversity of the Christian minority in the Holy Land.
To give a sense of the complexity of the diplomacy at work, as well as the richness of the traditions in play, GlobalPost lists the thirteen churches that will have representatives at the ceremony held by Francis and Bartholomew:
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem — also known as the Greek Orthodox Church, a community covering the majority of Arabic-speaking Christians, traditionally led by a Greek hierarchy.
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem — the Roman Catholic Church itself.
The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem — one of the oldest formally recognized churches in Jerusalem, dating back to the first century
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria — the largest Christian church in Egypt and the Middle East.
The Greek (Melkite) Catholic Church — distinct from the Greek Orthodox Church, with a much smaller presence and much more heterogeneously ethnically Greek parishioners.
The Maronite Church, more formally known as the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch, goes all the way back to a community founded by a 4th-century Syriac-Aramean monk named Marun, who many consider a saint. Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai, who is based in Beirut, has been warned there will be "negative repercussions" for his trip to Jerusalem by the Islamist movement Hezbollah.
The Syrian Orthodox Church, also called the Syriac Orthodox Church, uses the oldest surviving liturgy in Christianity.
The Syrian Catholic Church, another subject to the Catholic Church, following Syriac rites.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church — a subsidiary of the Coptic Church and one of the few pre-colonial churches in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Armenian Catholic Church — another Catholic offshoot in communion with Rome, and distinct from the Armenian Patriarchate.
The Chaldean Church — an offshoot of an offshoot, in this case, of the Eastern Syriac Church.
The Anglican Church and the Lutheran Church — The last two and the most explicitly foreign churches on this non-existent list have one thing in common: Their representatives first came to Jerusalem in 1841 "to establish a Protestant church in Palestine" with the Anglicans aiming to "convert Jews," according to Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran priest and the president of Dar el Kalima University in Bethlehem.