A Celebration of 600 years of the establishment of the Commissaries of the Custody of the Holy Land

Witnesses of the Risen Jesus, witnesses of hope

Readings: Acts 10:34a.37-43; Col 3.1-4; Jn 20:1-9

 

 

  1. Excellency, Dear brothers and sisters,

 

May the Lord give you peace!

 

A special greeting to all those who are following us via the Christian Media Centre.

In this Eucharistic celebration we would like to express our gratitude to the Lord for the service of the Commissaries of the Holy Land, after 600 years from their establishment by Pope Martin V. Indeed, as Pope Francis wrote to us, they carry on an “ever timely service: that of supporting, promoting, enhancing the mission of the Custody of the Holy Land, making possible a network of ecclesial, spiritual and charitable relationships that have as their focal point the very Land where Jesus lived” (Written by Pope Francis to the Custos of the Holy Land on the2nd February, 2021).

 

  1. In this celebration we would like to pray in a special way for the Holy Father, who has this mission at heart, just as his predecessors had taken it to heart throughout these many centuries. The Pontiffs have always encouraged us in our mission, since the time of St. Francis. In 1342 they established the Custody of the Holy Land and on the 14th February, 1421 they established the Commissaries of the Holy Land in order to concretely support this mission of the Order and of the Church. We would like to pray for our fellow Commissaries of the Holy Land and their collaborators. The Commissaries number about a hundred in sixty nations throughout the world, so that they continue to make known and lovedthe Holy Land, the treasure of its spiritual goods andthe local faithful, who are heirs and descendants of the first Christian communities. We pray that our Commissariesmay once again, and hopefully very soon, accompany pilgrims to renew their faith in contact with the “Fifth Gospel”; that they may continue to be the instruments the Lord uses to make His Providence reach us through the generosity of our benefactors. May they also continue to promote religious vocations for service in this Holy Land, unique for its meaning in the history of our salvation.

We also would like on this occasion, to pray with faith for all benefactors and the faithful, who in every part of the world are sensitive to the needs of the Holy Land and of this mission which by the Grace and Providence of God has been entrusted to us. We know that you are here present with usin your hearts, even if the pandemic still prevents you from traveling and reaching the Holy Places in person.

In this celebration, here at the Holy Sepulchre, in the holiest place in all of Christianity, in the very place where Jesus conquered sin and death and gave us certain and invincible hope, we would like to pray once again for the cessation of the Covid pandemic, to pray for the sick and for those who care for them, for the many poor who have no means of taking care of  themselves, and also for the Pastors and the Heads of the Countries, who are called to make difficult choices for the good of the faithful, of individuals and all people.

 

  1. This place was the first to have been entrusted to the friars: it is not only the holiest place of all, but it is also the place that gives meaning to the life of each of us. It gives meaning to the mission of the Church and also to our presence as Franciscan in this Holy Land.In Nazareth, in Bethlehem and in most of the sanctuaries that we take care of, we contemplate Jesus Christ, true God and true man and the mysteries of His life. We contemplate His person in His humanity and through His humanity we gradually come to realize His divinity. And only when we arrive on Calvary, a few steps from here, we recognize, thanks to His unique way of dying, what the Centurion recognized: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” In most of the sanctuaries that we take care of we contemplate above all the fact that Jesus emptied Himself of His being asGod, to become man, an obedient servant until death and death on the cross, for us, for me.

 

  1. Here in the empty aedicule of Jesus’ tomb, we contemplate what Peter and John contemplated on the day of the First Passover, that is, we contemplate the signs of Jesus' Resurrection: the stone rolled to one side, and the empty tomb, the bandages laying aside, the rolled up shroud and the empty sheet, because they no longer contain the body of Jesus but only the image imprinted by that physical and at the same time spiritual event which was the Resurrection of the body of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit.

We do not only contemplate what Peter and John saw, but also what Mary Magdalene, the apostle of the apostles, could contemplate in this garden: we contemplate the Risen One. If in other places, including Calvary, we have contemplated in His manhood, Jesus the Son of God here at His Sepulchre we contemplate in the Son of God the New Man, who, in His flesh now transfigured by the power of the Holy Spirit, participates in a personal way, with all His humanity in the life of God.

Here is the source of our hope, here is the meaning of our life, here is the transformation that is given to us and of which the Apostle Paul spoke with words that are valid for usto-day as they were for the first Christians: “Remember that you are risen with Christ, and so therefore live in the perspective of people who have risen, not people who are still prisoners of death. Your thoughts, your choices, your actions, reveal that you already participate in that new and divine life that Jesus Christ has given us by His resurrection. Your thoughts, your attitudes, your life show that you already live in God” (cf. Col 3,1-4).

 

  1. It is from the encounter with this empty tomb and then with the Risen Christ that our hope is born but from the same experiencealsothe mission of the Church flows. It is the mission received by Peter and the first disciples, to recount the life of Jesus, His actions and His words, His Passion, deathand glorious Resurrection. As the Apostle Peter reminded us in the passage from Acts: “to announce to the people and to testify that He [Jesus] is the judge of the living and the dead, appointed by God. To Him all the prophets bear this witness: whosoever believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name”(Acts 10,42-43).

Our presence as custodians of this place is above all the presence of those who continually contemplate this mystery and celebrate this mystery. Let us not forget what Pope Clement VI asked of us when he entrusted us with this mission: he asked us to “dwell” here, like the Magdalene who did not leave this place; and he asked us to “celebrate Sung Masses and the Divine office”, that is, to celebrate this mystery so that by celebrating it, it continues to be a source of salvation, hope, renewal and resurrection for all humanity.

 

  1. Our presence as custodians, however, is also the presence of those who live and nourish the original and fundamental witness of the whole Church, which is the announcement that“Jesus, the Crucified One, is truly Risen as He foretold”. This is the announcement of Mary Magdalene, which is the announcement of those who know that love is stronger than death. This is the announcement of Peter and his successors, who have the task of confirming the brothersand sisters in the faith, of animating them in hope and of keeping them united in charity. This is the announcement that every disciple of Jesus is called to make, without fear, with frankness and freedom, to the ends of the earth, till the end of time. For this is the proclamation that saves us, that changes the life of every man and woman, that nourishes the authentic hope of each of us, that introduces us into the very life of God.

 

  1. In front of this empty tomb, let us ask for the Holy Father, for all the Pastors of the Church, for our Commissaries of the Holy Land, for the benefactors and for the faithful scattered throughout the world, let us ask for each of us, simply this: to know how to recognize in our life the signs and the presence of the Risen Jesus, to know how to live as risen persons and in this way to be able to be witnesses to the Risen Jesus and to the invincible hope He has placed in our hearts. Amen!