On the day that the liturgy of the Catholic Church dedicates to the solemn feast of St John the Baptist, the Custody of the Holy Land celebrated in the places that commemorate the life of the Saint. It all started with the first vespers on Wednesday 23 June at the shrine of St John of the Desert and ended on the afternoon of 24 June with the solemn mass at the shrine of St John in the Mountain, with the Custody’s Vicar, Fr. Dobromir Jasztal presiding on both occasions.
The shrine of St John of the Desert, the place of the first celebration, commemorates the place where the Precursor spent his childhood and the years of preparing for public ministry, as the passage from Luke recalls, “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1,80). The church and the convent, designed by the architect Antonio Barluzzi, were inaugurated in 1922. The figure of the Baptist is closely associated with the desert, the place of ascetic life and, in the light of the history of Israel, the place where the grace of God is encountered. It is from the desert, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, that the precursor of the Messiah would have arrived and this is what the Gospels narrate.
"Preparing the way for the Lord does not mean doing something so that the Lord can pass comfortably alongside man,” commented the Vicar during the homily of Vespers “but it means working so that he can reach him in his existence and in his life.”
With his preaching, John wants to open up the laziness and closed mind of his contemporaries, who would not even have perceived the Lord. He reminds everyone that the time has come to take a decision: to convert and welcome Jesus or reject him and remain in sin."
After vespers, intoning hymns, the Franciscan friars and the faithful in procession went towards the grotto of St John situated under the small chapel of the Shrine. The celebration came to an end with everyone gathered around the fountain of the shrine.
The next day, in the afternoon, Holy Mass was celebrated in the shrine of St John in the Mountain in Karem, the place where the birth of St John the Baptist was remembered. The church, which is currently being restored, dates back to the 12th century and stands in an area where there are remains from the Byzantine era and a chapel with a mosaic floor which are evidence of a long tradition of worship.
After the homily, two Friars Minor in formation, Fr. Johnny and Fr. George, received the ministry of the lector.
"The mystery and the greatness of John can be understood only in the light of the life that he lived and the mission that he performed. But he could not have performed it if he had not understood what his vocation was and his relationship with he who chose him from his mother’s breast," Fr. Dobromir explained, after having underlined the privilege of the possibility of celebrating exactly in the place indicated as Zachariah’s house.
"Today, St John teaches us that, from the consciousness of his call and from a living relationship with God, man acquires the awareness of the value of his own life, which is a gift and which has to be generously put at the service of his brothers.”
At the end of the solemn celebration, the Franciscan friars, followed by the faithful, went on the traditional procession towards the grotto where the birth of John the Baptist is commemorated. After reading the Gospel of Luke in which the birth of John the Baptist and the imposition of his name is narrated, the liturgy ended with a solemn blessing.