Muslim keyholder to Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre Church says Vice President Pence isn't welcome

The custodian in charge of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has refused to welcome officially the US Vice President Mike Pence when he visits Jerusalem's Old City later this month.

Adeeb Joudeh, who is a Muslim officially responsible for the keys to the church – held to be where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, and shared across Christian denominations – wrote a letter yesterday making his position clear after Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, according to Israel's Channel 2 News.

Members of the Catholic clergy hold candles during a Holy Week procession around the Aedicule, the supposed location of the tomb of Jesus inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem.Reuters

'It has come to our attention that Vice President Pence intends to make an official visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and asked me to receive him officially,' the letter reads.

'I absolutely refuse to officially welcome the American Vice President Mr Mike Pence at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and I will not be physically in church during his visit.

'This is an expression of my condemnation of President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.'

However, amid reports that Pence was not planning to visit the church as he visits the region this month, officials from the church downplayed the importance of Joudeh's letter.

The Times of Israel quoted a church official as saying: 'We didn't receive any formal or informal request and if there is a request, there is a status quo procedure to respect involving the three communities. Anyway it is not up to one of the key keepers to decide anything about this kind of issue.'

Vice president Mike Pence will visit the Middle East later this month.Reuters

Pence, an evangelical Christian who was raised Catholic, has said that his trip to the region is aimed at bringing an 'end to the persecution of Christians and all religious minorities'.

But it is unclear how Pence will be received by local Christian leaders, who wrote a letter to the US President urging him not to change the status of Jerusalem last week, while Pope Francis expressed his 'deep concern' over the issue.

The head of Egypt's Coptic Christian Church, Pope Tawadros II, also said last week that he will not meet with Pence, adding that Trump's decision came 'at an unsuitable time and without consideration for the feelings of millions of people'.