A weekend rich in meetings brought together Christians from Jerusalem and Bethlehem on this first Sunday of Advent. On Saturday 29 and Sunday 30, the Custody (with all the universal Church) has entered the Season of Advent. For the Church this period is a preparation for Christmas, for the Savior’s birth in Bethlehem. It is, therefore, in this city of Palestine where the Franciscans and the faithful gathered for a weekend rich in liturgical appointments.
On Saturday morning, as is the tradition every year, the Latin Arab community of Jerusalem approached the Custody to exchange greetings with the Custos. The mukhtar – head of the community- recalled the plight of Christians in the Middle East, especially the Holy Land, a small community in search of spiritual, moral and economic support. In response, the Custos pronounced strong words to affirm the support of the friars and the need to keep hope alive. “Today, the Latino community and the Franciscans are one. Everything we do today would be impossible without your help. You are part of the identity of this city. The climate is deteriorating, but we must work hard and not give up. What is certain is that we will stay here. Christians are part of the universal and irrevocable vocation of this city”, stressed father Custos. Giving some little reassuring news about the Christians of Syria and Iraq, the Custos recalled that “the strategic plans or financial aid won’t save us. Since we are few, we should be even stronger. Prayer and the strength of our faith is what will save us.”
Afterwards, the brothers have come out in official cortege with local Christians towards Bethlehem, where they were received in a popular and festive way. The mayor has received Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa while at the same time he was applauded by the many children of the Terrasanta College (“five hundred”, according to one of the companions). In turn, the parish priest of St. Catherine Church has welcomed the Custos to the sound of Te Deum. While the pilgrims from Jerusalem were coming back to the Holy City, the friars have lunch with the community of Bethlehem. A solemn prayer of the first vespers was celebrated with great pomp to commemorate the entrance of the Advent season. During the singing of the Magnificat, the celebrant approached to the site of the Nativity and Manger to cense them. Then the light of the grotto was carried in procession to the church to light the first candle of the Advent wreath. The day concluded with the office of readings, during which the places of birth of the Lord were censed again.
A friar specifies: “This Saturday was a very Franciscan day”. Nothing to do with the first Sunday of Advent held in St. Catherine Church -this time with local Christians who attended in large number-. A peculiarity of this Sunday was the opening of the Year of consecrated life ordered by Rome. Numerous representatives of religious orders were present this Sunday morning alongside the custodian, who celebrated the Mass. “This year is a unique opportunity to renew our efforts, especially during this time of Advent in which we are invited to live a better life”, said an Indian nun who lives in Ain Karem. Another recalled the importance of her consecration in the Holy Land: “We are here to serve the Church, to maintain the presence of Christ in the Land where He wanted to live.”
The Mass, celebrated in Arabic, has served the custodian to remember the beauty of vocations in the Church. “We all represent a different charisma. A Church without such diversity would be impossible. But in this diversity God’s love and belonging to Christ makes unity. “
The congregation, composed also by many young people, listened attentively. After the celebration, an Iraqi religious who managed to escape from the Islamic Caliphate gave her testimony.
For a Dominican religious “the Year of the Consecrated Life invites us to return to the sources of our commitment. Today, the life of Christ that we receive from our consecration is being shared with the faithful and with the entire country. Our presence here is a claim to the testimony. “
The congregation has disbanded afterwards, carrying in the heart the hope of the Saviour that the Advent Season reminds. In this dark period -says a religious from the Small family of Resurrection- we must bring the joy of the consecrated life. This joy gives us the hope to await the coming Bridegroom. “