JERUSALEM – On April 5, 2020, in a context of health crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted the programming of the Holy Week celebrations around the world, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem celebrated Palm Sunday in its Co-Cathedral, before going to the Dominus Flevit sanctuary, on the Mount of Olives, where Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, presided over a prayer “in times of pandemic”.
Palm Sunday 2020 will remain etched in the memories of the faithful of the Holy Land for a long time. While tens of thousands of Christians from all over the region and from abroad flood the streets of Jerusalem every year to celebrate the solemn entry of Jesus into the Holy City, the traditional procession was canceled this year due health restrictions.
In the context of the global crisis due to the spread of Covid-19 and because of the unprecedented movement restrictions that have been adopted around the world by civil authorities, the Latin Patriarchate, like other religious institutions in the Holy Land, was indeed led to widely modify the organization of Easter celebrations.
The festive atmosphere that usually characterizes the celebrations of the first day of Holy Week in Jerusalem has thus given way to an atmosphere of meditation, illustrated by small gatherings held behind closed doors in the presence of a few priests, seminarians and a handful of journalists reduced to the bare minimum.
It is in this completely new context that was held on Sunday, April 5, Palm Sunday Mass, in the Co-Cathedral of the Latin Patriarchate. Presided by Bishop Giacinto Boulos-Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, the celebration was broadcast live by the cameras of the Christian Media Center (CMC) and on the television channel “Palestine Live”, the Facebook page of the Latin Patriarchate, as well than on several websites including abouna.org.
“Palm Sunday is an opportunity to properly interpret and live the meaning of the special and difficult circumstances that the whole world, or almost, is going through – stressed Bishop Marcuzzo in his homily pronounced in Arabic. ” This Sunday presents as an apparent internal contradiction,” he continues. “On the one hand, we celebrate the solemn entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, like the son of David, the King; on the other hand, it’s Passion Sunday, the beginning of the Holy Week. The meaning of this contradiction is as follows: one cannot arrive at glory, at new life, at resurrection without first passing through the “Cross”, sign of the greatest love which is the reason of all new life and of any resurrection.”
In the present dramatic circumstances, Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo urged the faithful not to consider this crisis as a punishment from God. “God is never the cause of an evil, underlines the Patriarchal Vicar, but He can sometimes make evil or painful situations possible for a greater good; because behind the acts of the Lord you must always see an act of love, as Saint Paul said.”
And referring to the meditation published for this Sunday by Archbishop Pizzaballa: “When reading the Bible, we see that God often visits His people. This visit is often a tragic situation, followed by a phase of reconstruction, of a new life, for the people or for a person, as happened to the Virgin Mary. […] The present situation is therefore an opportunity for the Lord to show us His love, and for us to purify and strengthen our faith, to confirm our hope in this period of Lent in order to prepare us to rise to a new life with the Risen Christ.”
The day continued at Dominus Flevit, on the Mount of Olives, where Archbishop Pizzaballa presided over a prayer “in times of pandemic”. Earlier in the day, the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate celebrated Palm Sunday Mass, with the consent of civil authorities, in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. From the hill, surrounded by Bishop Marcuzzo, several priests of the Latin Patriarchate as well as a delegation of Franciscans friars from the local clergy led by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, he delivered a message and blessed Jerusalem.
In his message, delivered in English, he returned to Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem, whose meaning was frowned upon by the locals. “The latter [recognized Him] as a King, like the awaited Messiah, like the one who was finally going to receive their prayers”, when Jesus came to be arrested and killed … “This may be the lesson that Jesus wants to give us today ”explains Archbishop Pizzaballa, drawing a parallel with the epidemic situation, where we appeal to God so that He answers our prayers by delivering us from this plague. “We turn to God when there is something that harms us. When we are in trouble – continues the Apostolic Administrator -. […] We want Jesus to become the type of king and messiah who solves our problems, […] help in the difficult situation in which we find ourselves. We wish that He would save us from the Corona Virus, that everything returns to the way we were before.” Archbishop Pizzaballa evokes, in a mixture of kindness and high standards, the disappointment that we can feel today, like the crowd who greeted Jesus, before a messiah who “responds in His own way”. “Precisely because Jesus says “yes” to our deepest desires, He will have to say “no” to our immediate desires.” To understand this lesson on “the discrepancy between our expectations and God’s response”, in the words of the Apostolic Administrator, “is taking a big step towards true Christian faith.”
The prayer too was broadcast by the CMC cameras and aired live.
As of March 12, in accordance with the directives decreed by the civil authorities, the Latin Patriarchate had issued a press release calling on “to limit the gatherings of more than one hundred people, also recommending to the faithful not to shake hands”. In his letter distributed throughout the Diocese of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pizzaballa asked all parish priests to “strive to respect and ensure respect for these rules and to organize the various liturgical events – including Sunday Mass – so as to comply with government directives ”.
On March 26, as Holy Week is fast approaching, health restrictions have tightened almost everywhere in the region until the confinement of populations decreed by most of the civil governments in the territory of the diocese, the Latin Patriarchate outlines, in a new press release, the original conditions in which the Holy Week celebrations will take place.
Taking into account the directives of the civil authorities, but also the documents published by the Holy See, Archbishop Pizzaballa then announced, among other measures, the cancellation of the Palm Sunday procession. The Apostolic Administrator announces at the same time the reduction of the celebrations at the Holy Sepulcher and announces that the whole of the sacred Tridiuum in Arabic will take place in the Co-Cathedral of the Latin Patriarchate, animated by the seminarians and broadcast live for the whole diocese by the Christian Media Center.
By: Geoffroy Poirier-Coutansais