Peace: this is the keyword for the Churches of Jerusalem, which took turns on December 28 at the Custody for the traditional exchange of Christmas greetings. Greeks, Armenians, Copts, Syriacs, Ethiopians and, finally, a representation of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem were present.
The first group to make an appearance in the morning was the Greek-Orthodox delegation, headed by Patriarch Theophilus III. “Peace and reconciliation: this is [our] hope and our commitment,” said the Patriarch in his speech. His speech began with a reminder of the past year’s issues and new challenges he faces and the importance of collaboration between the two Churches as the first step toward the renovation of the Edicule of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Church of Nativity of Bethlehem. “We believe in the power of the Child of Bethlehem,” said the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, who also added a reference to the effectiveness of communion for the defense of the rights of the Church and, therefore, of those of local Christians.
Soon after, the Armenian delegation arrived at the typical sound of the Kawas’ sticks. “Christ came to make us understand what the word ‘peace’ means,” they said, remembering the importance of prayer, “so that, at his second coming, he can find a better world”. Br. Patton welcomed the invitation to prayer and to greetings, emphasizing how this day is a source of communion because, without brotherhood, even the most beautiful projects would be empty.
The third set of speeches were by the Copts and the Syriacs. The former, when they spoke, recalled the joy of the Nativity: “God,” they said, “created man for eternal life, not for death: this is why we celebrate the birth of our Savior.” Later, the delegation of the Syriac Church took the floor and focused its attention on the fact that, with his coming, God gave a dimension to infinity, and saved us. They then concluded their speech with thanks for the many services that the Franciscans carry out, wishing them to be “witnesses of faith and charity to the end.” The Custos responded by offering prayers and recalling how Jesus, who became the Father’s Son on Christmas Day, makes us all become sons and brothers.
Later, a delegation of Friars Minor of the Custody went to the Melkite Patriarchate for the meeting with the Vicar of the Patriarch, Yasser Al Hayaash. The Custos made his wishes that the VIcar and the internal community may continue to experience the feeling of being loved by serving the Church in this Holy Land. Al Hayaash, in his speech, spoke about the struggles of this land, wishing peace for the peoples of the Middle East. “It takes the collaboration of all Christians and of all of the churches to become strong and to overcome our struggles,” he said, before thanking the Franciscans for fostering coexistence among the Churches and encouraging many local Christians to stay, even when the situation may have been challenging.
The afternoon was divided into two segments: the Ethiopians’ visit and that of the representation of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
In the first segment, the Ethiopians also revisited the prayer for peace among peoples through Jesus, which is unity between the human and the divine. Lastly, the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, Mons. Pizzaballa, took the floor remarking how, in becoming a man, God enters our time and our history. “Christmas tells us that our life is Advent that ends with our encounter with God,” said Mons. Pizzaballa. “Walk this path toward the future with confidence: the mercy of the Father awaits us.” The Custos, in conclusion, spoke about St. Francis. “We know how eagerly he could make himself small to see the paradigm of God’s actions,” he said. “Everything begins from the feast of Christmas, in which God becomes powerless to save us.” And with the hope that this could be a time of grace, peace and hope against all hope, the day of exchange of good wishes concluded.
By: Giovanni Malaspina