A crowd of faithful greeted the arrival of the precious relic for the beginning of the Christmas celebrations. It will be exhibited in St. Catherine’s Church, adjacent to the Basilica of the Nativity. Monsignor Pizzaballa: a sign of the Pope’s “profound attention”. Custodian of the Holy Land: “Beautiful gift”.
Bethlehem – Over the weekend, a crowd of faithful celebrated the arrival in Bethlehem of a fragment of the manger in which Jesus was cradled at birth. The relic, from Rome, will be exhibited throughout the Advent period at the Franciscan St. Catherine’s Church, adjacent to the Basilica of the Nativity in Manger Square. The beginning of the celebrations that accompany Christmas has also seen the traditional ritual of lighting the Christmas tree.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, reports that the fragment of the manger “was received as a surprise, a great and pleasant surprise”. “There was no public relations campaign or rumors announcing the arrival of the relic for the beginning of Advent”. This gesture, he concludes, “is a further sign of the great courtesy and deep attention that Pope Francis has for the Church of the Holy Land. The return of the fragment was a bit like the closing of a circle”.
At first the devotional object – entrusted to the care of the Custody of the Holy Land – was exhibited at the Notre Dame Institute in Jerusalem, coming from the St May Major Basilica in Rome. The wooden fragment was taken to Rome in the 7th century, after the conquest of the Holy Land by Muslims. On November 30th the transfer to Bethlehem, home of the Nativity, where it was greeted by a crowd in procession and the sound of the band for the official beginning of celebrations in preparation for Christmas.
The mayor of the Palestinian town Anton Salman, remembers that the decision was born on the occasion of the visit of Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican, during which the Anp president has asked to Pope Francis for the restitution of the relic. The fragment, the mayor continues, was taken about a thousand years ago from Bethlehem and never returned. For Amira Hanania, a member of the Higher Committee of Churches Affairs, it is “a historical fact” because the object “returns to its original location and will be an element of attraction for the faithful from all over Palestine and tourists from all over the world”.
Custos of the Holy Sites in the Holy Land Fr. Francesco Patton, describes it as a moment of “great joy” and “a nice Christmas present from the Pope”. The hope, the friar continues, is that “the different Christian communities” who live here “may worship this relic” and, also for pilgrims, it become an opportunity “to renew their faith in the mystery of the incarnation”.