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Last Word On The Last Supper Room?

The Israeli government can't be accused of not being ecumenical about getting into the spirit of Christmas. Officials have worked hard to organize tree giveaways and caroling events in Jerusalem, fireworks in Nazareth, and convenient bus services to Bethlehem. But Israel has no intention of giving the Vatican the Christmas gift at the top of its wish list, at least not this year. The Vatican has long wanted to take possession of the Last Supper Room, the Christian holy site on Mt. Zion where Jesus and his disciples famously gathered.

Wrested Control

The Roman Catholic Church lost possession of the room, also called the Cenaculum, or Holy Cenacle, circa 1551, when the Ottoman Empire wrested control of the site from Franciscan monks. The Church has been trying to win back the Crusader-era sanctuary ever since.

The Vatican had hoped that they would at last make a deal with the Israeli government this year, but the negotiations fell through just before Christmas of 2009. Some Vatican officials say that the impasse over the Holy Cenacle is beginning to sour diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican.

Part And Parcel

Israel's foreign minister Danny Ayalon, had traveled to Rome still hoping to reach a compromise. But according to Ayalon, while Israel was willing to grant the Vatican a bigger role in managing the site, giving up sovereignty was never on the table. "It is part and parcel of Jerusalem, and nobody can expect us to split sovereignty or possession," said Ayalon, who added that the talks would not be likely to resume for at least half a year.

Meantime, Jerusalem-based Franciscan officials who act as custodians for many of the Christian holy sites in Israel said they still hoped the Last Supper Room would return to their possession. Father Athanasius Macora, the secretary of one Franciscan commission who monitors the holy sites noted that the Holy Cenacle is also special because the Holy Spirit is believed by Christians to have appeared to His disciples during the first Pentecost. "It was our mother house and headquarters. We still have the deed to the property," said Macora.

One of the issues is a competing claim that the Last Supper Room sits atop of the Tomb of David, which many Jews believe to be the burial place of their ancient king. Also, during the Ottoman period, the Cenaculum served as a mosque for local Moslems.


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