To the sound of bells, the faithful and friars filled the church of the sanctuary at Emmaus al-Qubeybeh. In this village located west of Jerusalem with an almost entirely Muslim population, this happens only twice a year. In the same place where the Risen Jesus appeared to the two disciples of Emmaus, Cleophas and Simeon, and on the occasion of their feast day, Sunday, September 25, a mass was celebrated that was presided over by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton. For this feast and for Easter Monday, it is possible to go through the checkpoints that during the year prevent people from reaching the isolated sanctuary in the Palestinian territory.
Br. Salem Younes, who has lived in al-Qubeybeh for a long time, was himself present at the liturgical celebration. Because of the complex political situation, only one Christian family lives in the village and the religious there are few and far between. “I was alone for two years, then another friar arrived,” said Br. Salem. One woman, who is from the only Christian family in the village, stayed behind and talked to us about the chaos related to the special permits that are required if they want to go to the other side of the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.
In addition to the faithful who came by bus from Jerusalem, the Sisters of the Catechism, who live at the shrine, also participated in the mass. The sisters are in charge of a kindergarten for the children of the village, the majority of whom are Muslim.
The feast of Saints Simeon and Cleophas “helps us see ourselves reflected in in these two disciples and watch our journey of faith,” said the Custos in his homily. This journey should not go backwards, “as do the shrimp.”
“If things do not go as we had planned or like we think they should have gone, we get frustrated. It seems to us that we have been wronged by fate and soon we we start to complain, explained Fr. Patton, and instead of continuing the path we have begun, we look back and we retreat inward.” Jesus, on the other hand, comes to bring us a new interpretation to each one of our individual histories: the history of Easter. The Custos then exhorted, “When we become prisoners of our complaints, let us be warmed by the heart of Jesus who speaks to us and who invites us to look in a new way at what happened or what is happening to us.”
At the end of the mass, the opening of the Terra Sancta Organ – Music of the Churches of the Middle East and the Levant, the third concert season organized by the Custody of the Holy Land.
Organ music by German Gunther Martin Goettsche and the voice of the Dutch soprano Anne-Marieke Evers resonated throughout the church to songs by composers such as Scheidemann, Handel and Vivaldi, among others. The festival is a way of highlighting the Christian presence in the Middle East and promoting the study of the organ, an instrument that is specifically Christian and necessary for the liturgy. Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria: these are the places where the Custody of the Holy Land is present and that will be main protagonists of these concerts.
The pilgrimage to Emmaus al-Qubeybeh concluded by sharing a community meal in the halls of the monastery, with an important request from Br. Salem: to pray for the shrine.