Turning our lives into a way to Emmaus

(Terra Santa Blog) Under the morning rain on Easter Monday, the faithful and Franciscans left to go toward Emmaus al-Qubeibeh, a village west of Jerusalem. In order to transport parishioners and pilgrims to the religious sanctuary, half a dozen buses were chartered from Jerusalem and four were chartered from Bethlehem.

Many faithful had answered present at roll call and indeed the church was packed. The scouts’ drumming accompanied the solemn entry into the basilica. The mass was presided over by the Custos of the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, in what will likely be his last solemn mass as Custos, as his term coming to an end. The liturgy was made lively by the Magnificat’s Choir.

Br. Salem Younis, the head of the shrine, who is present on-site throughout the year, gave a welcome speech. He talked about the special situation of Emmaus al-Qubeibeh, which is a village that is now completely Muslim. The place is also difficult for pilgrims to access the rest of the year because of the checkpoints. Despite these challenges, in his speech, he emphasized the good, brotherly relations among the village’s inhabitants. A large delegation of local officials also joined the feast. One could feel the enthusiasm of the friar who welcomed the crowd of faithful, something that only happens twice a year: at the feast of Sts. Simeon and Cleophas in September and again on the occasion of Easter Monday.

In fact, every Easter Monday, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, go to Emmaus, to commemorate the risen Christ’s appearance to the two disciples, Cleophas and Simeon. On the way to Emmaus, they found a man who told them that the Messiah had to suffer and die to achieve glory. He sat down with them to eat, he took bread, blessed it and broke it. At that time, the two disciples recognized him as Jesus, but he disappeared. With renewed enthusiasm, Simeon and Cleophas went back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples about what had happened to them.

The Franciscans built the Shrine of the Lord’s Appearance in the early twentieth century, on the ruins of a Crusader-era church, which tradition tells us is the location of Cleophas’ house.

In his homily, Fr. Feras Hejazin, the pastor of Jerusalem, recalled that this was where the first mass took place after the Resurrection. Simeon and Cleophas, dismayed by Jesus’ death, did not recognize him, even though he was walking with them. So, Fr. Feras invited every member of the congregation to find their own Emmaus in their life everyday life, and to recognize the signs of Christ’s presence within that walk, so as to renew their faith.

At the conclusion of the mass, the faithful got in line before the altar in order to receive the blessed bread—which had been brought in large baskets during the offertory—from the hands of the Custos.

After the celebration, the participants gathered in the monastery, sheltered from the rain, to enjoy the lunch that was provided for them in the refectory.

The faithful then returned to the church for vespers. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed first, and then vespers were sung, and finally, the Eucharistic blessing was given. This day brings Holy Week to a conclusion, after five intense days of Easter celebrations in the places of the Passion and Resurrection.