The Catholic Faith

See photo: Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican

Catholicism comprises the largest number of Christians with more than 1.25 billion people. Along with the Orthodox Church, this branch of Christianity can trace its origins to the times of the apostles. However, from the 9th century a series of conflicts between the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople led to a final schism in 1054.

From an organizational point of view, the Catholic Church is characterized by a high level of centralization. The Pope is the supreme authority in all matters concerning morals and faith, his opinion holds greater weight with Catholics than the decisions of the Ecumenical Council.

Opinions held in Catholicism on the role of the church in the salvation of the human soul are interesting. Christianity dictates that faith in God and good works on the part of the faithful are obligatory for salvation. The Catholic Church presumes that it is the custodian of the “key acts of faith”, that is the totality of the good works carried out by blessed Christians, the Saints, Jesus Christ and the Virgen Mary. Because of that, the Catholic Church has the power to forgive sins and grant the penitent credit for good works. In a similar fashion, the ability to provide such a distinction allows the Pope to reduce the time that the deceased's soul spends in purgatory. Only the Catholics adhere to the concept of purgatory as a temporary place for the soul between heaven and hell.

Catholics have a stricter interpretation of celibacy than the Protestants and the Orthodox, as it is obligatory for all of the Catholic clergy, while for the Orthodox it is only required for monks. It is also the case that until 1965 all Catholic Masses were celebrated exclusively in Latin. The Second Vatican Council allowed Catholic priests to celebrate mass in a country's official language in order to make them more accessible to parishioners.

Despite the fact that the residence of the head of the Catholic Church is in the Vatican, Jerusalem continues to be an important center in the spiritual life of Catholics. Like other Christian denominations, Catholics consider the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre to be their most holy sanctuary. In the Middle Ages the goal of returning it to Christian control began a series of military expeditions known as the Crusades.

Today, Catholics prefer to show their respect for the places where the Savior died and was resurrected in a much more peaceful fashion. One example is the organization of a large procession every year before Easter involving the participation of local Catholics as well as thousands of the pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem. They carry olive and palm branches and begin their itinerary at Bethphage, currently located in the eastern, Arab, part of Jerusalem. The procession heads toward the Franciscan church of the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre and ends at the patio of Saint Anne's Church. Onlookers on the balconies throw white rice down onto the procession.

On Holy Friday the Franciscan monks organize a beautiful burial procession in the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre. Two Arabs in blue uniforms trimmed in gold, red fezzes, and richly decorated swords march alongside to accompany the procession. They are kavases, who in the Ottoman Empire accompanied Christian processions and maintained order. Now they attend the ceremonies to follow the tradition. The monks wear wooden crucifixes and they stop six times along the way to symbolize the Stations of the Cross, from the betrayal of Judas to the placing of the body of Christ into the tomb. During each stop the monks read the corresponding portion of the Bible in Latin, Arabic, English, Italian, Polish, and German. They do so because the visiting pilgrims attending the ceremony hail from different counties all over the world. The procession ends when the statue of the Savior Down From the Cross is placed over the Holy Sepulchre.  They cover the cross with a white sheet which, along with the nail and crown of thorns, symbolizes the suffering of Jesus. Finally, the faithful join together around the tomb in in silent prayer.