Holy Week in the Holy Land with the Franciscans

Saturday, March 28 – Pilgrimage to Bethphage

It is the spiritual heart of Jerusalem, the summit of the liturgical year. Holy Week finally begins and the Franciscsans of the Holy Land are ready.

Saturday, March 28, the Franciscans performed the last pilgrimage of Lent, linked already to Palm Sunday. A delegation visited Bethphage sanctuary to celebrate Mass. This is where Christ asked his disciples to fetch a donkey for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem, the city where they killed Him, city of selfishness, city in which Christ cried, but mostly, the city where our salvation is rooted” commented Fr. Hugues, preacher of the Lenten pilgrimages.

While the friars were gathered in the church with the local parishioners and a group of pilgrims, the Indian community (migrant workers) stood in the way to initiate the Palm Sunday procession.

The Christian Quarter of Jerusalem is buzzing since yesterday: the parishioners weave palms, the megaphones broadcast prayers, the scouts rehearse for the parade … Holy Week can start!

Sunday, March 28 – Palm Sunday Mass and procession

“The children of the Hebrews threw their clothes on the road and cheered: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! “. These are the words that accompanied the faithful at the Holy Sepulchre for the Palm Sunday procession.

Gathered around the Latin Patriarch, the clerics (Franciscans, student priests or seminarians of the patriarchy) were numerous. In the long procession they formed, the red of the liturgical vestments skirted the green palms. In a Basilica lit by the morning sun, the rustling of the palms adorned the powerful sound of the organ. An atmosphere that is both festive and majestic, like the solemn and popular entry of Christ in the Holy City.

A great crowd accompanied the start of the procession before the kawas restored the order.

Few local faithful were present for this long Mass (three hours of celebration, with the Passion sung). Nevertheless, there were parishioners from Nablus that came with their parish priest. The assembly was mainly composed by international volunteers and pilgrims. A Mass rather confusing for them “It was pretty hard to follow, it should have been microphones!” says one of them. It is true that the Copts behind the Edicule sang loudly. The distributed booklets have happily allowed everyone to follow the liturgy of this great feast.

A Mass followed by the great procession of the afternoon.

Under a bright sun and in a festive atmosphere, many converged towards Bethphage early in the afternoon. Priests and seminarians of the Latin Patriarchate, Franciscans, parishioners of Palestine, Israel and Jerusalem, but also pilgrims and visiting foreigners or settled in the country … churches from here and there also joined the procession to the places mentioned in the Bible.

bbAfter the reading of the Gospel, everyone was invited to pray for peace in the Holy Land and the world, and for the conversion of hearts. Gradually, people set off. As last came the seminarians of the Patriarchate, the Custos Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal. Equipped with palm and olive branches, proudly displaying the banners of their parish, the Christians marched towards Jerusalem, singing and praying in group. “We all have our sensibilities and our styles, and we pray in our own way. I think this procession is a testament of peace and unity that can touch Jews and Muslims”, said Fr. Pablo, Argentinean living in the Holy Land for 6 years. Jaime, a young Spanish student is surprised “All Jerusalem is there, I even saw my Hebrew teacher who is Jewish yet!” Further down, some young veiled Muslim girls joined the fun.

The Franciscans for their part, allowed the seminarians to set the mood: guitars and drums accompanied the various songs, while some others danced. The Franciscan aspirants preceded them, singing with their heart. “This feast is a unique day in the year, it’s a very different atmosphere from the one that prevails in the Holy Sepulchre” highlighted one of them.

On his arrival at the Basilica of St. Anne, the Patriarch blessed the crowd. Then the scouts set off again in fanfare along the city walls from the outside towards New Gate. One of the parishioners of St. Saviour said: “I think if half the parishioners made the procession, the other half is here to accompany the scouts!” In fact, a large crowd had gathered, celebrating like 2000 years ago the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.