It is now a consolidated habit for the calendar. This year again, for the Custody of the Holy Land, 27 December was a day dedicated to the exchange of greetings for the Latin Christmas that has just passed. As per tradition, the welcome and the exchange took place in the room of the Diwan, in St Saviour’s Convent in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The first were the Greek Orthodox, present with a vast representation led by the Patriarch Theophilos III, who was the first to speak. “Best wishes for the celebration of the feast of the Nativity, this year we have a lot to be grateful for, including to your community,” said Theophilos. “We have recently seen the fruit of our collaboration on the protection of the Christian Communities in these places, which is why I want to express my enthusiasm and appreciation in increasing the awareness against the lack of respect for us. Ours is a difficult mission, but it is a mission of peace.”
The Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton answered him and in his speech, he too expressed gratitude to the Greek Orthodox community for the collaboration in restoring the Holy Places, but also in defending the “living stones”: the Christians who live in the Holy Land. “It is not easy, but if we are a single body our strength will come from the Holy Spirit.”
It was then the turn of the representatives of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate. At the head of the delegation, the Armenian Patriarch, Nourhan Manougian. “It is a great joy for us to be here once again, the blessing of the birth of Jesus gives us hope,” commented Patriarch Manougian in his speech. “Despite everything, the Church continues to be and has to be a safe port to inspire the faithful. We have to be together, hand in hand, handing down the teachings of Our Lord and helping one another.”
“We are grateful for the fraternal relationship that there is between our communities. In the recent past, this communion has also allowed us to continue the restoration work of the Holy Places and we are very grateful to you for this.”
Then it was the turn of the Copt and Syriac delegations. The former expressed their feelings of joy for these festivities, recalling that when God created man he placed him in paradise, so that he could have a life of joy but, because of sin, man introduced death and the joy of paradise was lost to him. “In Christmas we remember that God enters time through a woman, becoming incarnate,” said the Coptic Patriarch, Anba Antonius “and he brought us back a better life.” After the Coptic delegation, the representative of the Syriac patriarch took the floor, underlining the urgency to pray for all the ill and for those who have been affected by the pandemic, to have a peaceful year and a Holy Christmas.
“Today we want to wish you all joy and peace. We assure our solidarity and closeness to the Coptic Church and to the Syriac Church,” answered the Custos is his address. “As Pope Francis has recently said, “there are many difficulties in our time, but hope is strongest, “for a child is born to us” (Isaiah 9,5)”. Christ born for us, teach us to walk on the paths of peace. To all of you, we offer our sincere greetings of joy and peace, gifts of God which may remain for ever.”
After the four delegations, the Ethiopian Orthodox also came to St Saviour to express their dearest wishes to the Latin Church which has already celebrated Christmas. The Ethiopian delegation recalled the profound nature of this mystery, focusing on the peace which is restored by God when Jesus was born. “Our meeting like this is not a formality, alongside the protocol there is much more,” answered Fr. Patton. “The real reason is the desire to share the mystery in which we believe and which we celebrate and to feel like brothers who are loved and saved by the same Father.”
The morning came to an end with the visit to the Greek Catholic Patriarch, Yosef Absi, who welcomed the Franciscans with enthusiasm. The Custos, Fr. Patton, recalled the importance of setting off on a journey, because life is always a pilgrimage. Patriarch Absi answered this by highlighting that in these celebrations the Child Jesus is the essential: “where his greatness is, it is precisely where we find his smallness, and it is precisely there that we find our humanity, our salvation and our hope.”
In the afternoon, it was time for the meeting with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa. “I want to extend my wishes to the whole of the Custody, here in the Holy Land and also in the rest of the world. In particular, I remember our brothers who are suffering in Syria and in Lebanon,” said His Beatitude. “I thank the service to the Universal Church in the Holy Places, but also locally in the parishes. This year, our people needed expressions of joy and community. We needed to feel affection and the closeness of the people, so we are grateful for al this.”
THE CUSTODY IN THE HOLY LAND