The Witness of the Franciscan Friars Closed Inside the Holy Sepulchre

Starting on Sunday, the 25th of February, the Holy Sepulchre was closed for three days. Only the Greek-Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian religious communities living in the Sepulcher were left inside the Basilica, and they remained "locked" inside for the full three days of closure.

On the third day of the closure, we asked the Franciscan friars of the Holy Sepulcher to give their witness. They assured us that life inside the shrine had not changed. 

“Even if we cannot go out, our everyday life is the same,” explained Fr. Zacheusz Drazek, President of the Franciscan fraternity of the Holy Sepulcher, over the phone. “There are ten friars and we pray for all of the pilgrims.” The Polish friar, who for almost two years has acted as president, told us that they were able to communicate with the outside world through the small window on the large entrance door, from which they received prayer intentions and gifts. “We have excellent relations with the other Orthodox and Armenian communities and there is a certain tranquility and silence,” said Fr. Zacheusz. “The difference on these days is that, since our cook cannot enter, we friars have to do our own cooking.” Despite the displeasure of not being able to welcome the pilgrims, the President of the Franciscan fraternity of the Holy Sepulcher explained that, on the third day of the closure, there is peace among the friars.


“The life of the Sepulcher does not change, even with the doors closed,” said the Franciscan sacristan Br. Sinisa Srebrenovic. “We know that the pilgrims who remain outside the door do not always understand the situation. We have received so much support from all over the world and even the local guides I know have assured us that they will explain what is happening.” Br. Sinisa continues, “Today it is very striking to see the empty basilica, but we carry on with our normal lives.” After midnight, the Greek Orthodox begin with their liturgy at the Sepulcher. Then there are the Armenians, and the masses of the Franciscans begin both at Calvary and at Jesus’ tomb. 

“Even if there are no people, we have organ masses, as we always do in the morning,” explained Br. Srebrenovic. “In the afternoon, we make our daily procession , going around the whole Basilica.” For the Croatian friar, hearing the pilgrims singing outside on the square from inside the shrine is a sign: “It is a sign that those who come on pilgrimage have Jesus’ Sepulcher as their destination and they are finding that the door is closed. Yet they find the hope to pray in front of that closed door.”

Br. Sinisa recalled that in the history of the Franciscan presence, there were other times that the Sepulcher had to close. One example of this was when the Ottoman Empire controlled the pilgrims’ entrance. This was one of the reasons that a Muslim guardian has the keys to the shrine.

“In the past it happened several times that the friars were closed inside the Sepulcher for weeks, but they always carried on with their normal lives,” continued the friar. “We are here in the name of the Church, ensuring that there is constant prayer in this holy place.” In these days, the relationships between the communities are very good, as has been the case for some time. “We have managed this situation together with the friars from the other communities, beginning at the moment when we had to get people out to close the door.”

The Franciscan fraternity of the Holy Sepulcher is united in prayer for pilgrims. “We are asking that the Lord enlighten them to understand this situation,” said Br. Sinisa . “It is not an easy situation. We are not here to play politics, but to protect the Christian presence. For 800 years, the friars have been in the Holy Land and our purpose has always been the same.”

>>Article courtesy of Custodia Terra Sancta Blog