Single door in Church of the Holy Sepulchre may not accommodate throngs of pilgrims
November 13, 1999
From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The millennium Christmas remains seven weeks away, but the holiday rush has already reached the doorway of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Government and religious officials have grown concerned that the ancient church cannot cope with the burgeoning number of pilgrims crowding the traditional site of the entombment of Jesus, particularly because a single doorway serves as the only entrance and exit.
Six Christian sects keep precious holds on separate parts of the cavernous structure. Orthodox, Latin, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian and Ethiopian clergy preside over different chapels, corridors and halls.
But an extra door would jeopardize a revered historic agreement for guarding the holy site.
"Another door is a new situation. If you have a new door, you would need a new arrangement for that door," said the Rev. Claudio Baratto of the Franciscan order.
A primary concern would be who would possess the keys. To prevent feuding between the rival Christian sects, two prominent Palestinian Islamic families have been the keepers of the keys to the single door for 800 years.
The Christian sects do not formally recognize Israeli control in the old city. The Israelis say they will not intervene unless all the churches request it.
In the meantime, Baratto, accustomed to considering time periods as long as eternity, said that there may be a resolution, only not in the short term.
"To reach an agreement you need time. For the third millennium it won't be like this. In 1,000 years it won't be like this, perhaps," he quipped.
Transcript: Christmas Poses Security, Logistical Challenges for Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher
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