The celebrations of the 8th centenary of the pilgrimage of peace by St Francis in the Holy Land are over

At the end of the days celebrating the 8th centenary of the pilgrimage of peace by St Francis in the Holy Land, there were two events concluding the commemoration: the Solemn Entrance to the Holy Sepulchre by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and the visit to the Mosque of Al-Aqsa which was followed by a meeting with the representatives of the Grand Mufti and of the Waqf.

On Wednesday 2nd October, following the protocol, the solemn entrance of Cardinal Sandri started from the Jaffa Gate where he was welcomed by the Armenian and Greek orthodox delegations. The cardinal was followed by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton and a large group of Franciscans headed by the Kawas. The delegation then set off in a procession for the Sepulchre, the door of which, symbolically closed, was reopened for the event. In the square in front of the Basilica, the Cardinal was welcomed by the authorities representing the different Christian communities present in the Basilica. On entering, Cardinal Sandri kissed the Stone of Unction and aspersed the crowd present there.Immediately afterwards, he went to the Anastasis, the place of the Resurrection, where the Te Deum was sung and the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa and the Cardinal  spoke to the friars and the faithful present. In his address, Mons. Pizzaballaemphasized the close bond between Rome and Jerusalem. “The Mother Church of Jerusalem is not complete,” the Apostolic Administrator said, “without unity with the authority of Peter. At the same time, we like to think that the authority of Peter’s successor cannot be complete without the Mother Church of Jerusalem, custodian of the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. [...] Welcome, welcome to this Land which God chose as His Homeland."

On Thursday 3rd October, the most significant central meeting took place in the area of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Franciscan delegation that accompanied Cardinal Sandri, the Apostolic Nuncio Mons. Leopoldo Girelli and the Custos of the Holy Land Fr. Patton, visited the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, some of the most sacred places for Islam. This was followed by a meeting in the Library in the complex of the mosques. The first to speak was Azzam Al-Ahmad, in charge of the Waqf (the organization which looks afterMuslim buildings in Jerusalem), who underlined the historic nature of the meeting taking place, framing it in the context of the visit by Pope Francis  in May 2014 when he spoke of the “continuous support of the Church and the Holy See to the Status Quo of the Muslim and Christian shrines."

Cardinal Sandri then thanked the Royal Family of Jordan for having fostered the meeting and the local authorities, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the Waqf of Jerusalem and Dr Ramzi Khoury, Chairman of the Presidential Committee for the Affairs of the Church. Cardinal Sandri quoted undertaking signed by Pope Francis in Rabat on 1st April 2019 to confirm the wishes of the Holy See to support and preserve the Holy City of Jerusalem as a"common heritage of humanity and above all for the faithful of the three monotheist religions, as a meeting place and a symbol of peaceful coexistence, where mutual respect and dialogue are cultivated.” In his speech, the Cardinal underlined how essential the work of the Franciscans is, “thanks to the experience matured over eight centuries of their presence” which allows them to work in various fields in order to make the Holy Land known and promote it outside its borders. He mentioned some temporary exhibitions curated by the Cultural Heritage Dept. of the Custody, the work of the Magnificat Institute and some social work carried out in collaboration with the ATS Pro Terra Sancta Association.

A Representative of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem then spoke, greeting those present and  highlighting the importance of the coexistence between Christians and Muslims in this land, quoting the proximity of Christianity to Islam as written in the Qur’an. 

The Custos of the Holy Land Fr. Francesco Patton spoke immediately after. In his address, Fr. Patton spoke of the pilgrimage of peace of St Francis 800 years ago, which was very important for the founder of the order of Friars Minor. "Thanks to his experience here in the Holy Land,” said the Custos, “he gave us Friars Minor precious indications on how to live here peacefully and put ourselves at the service of all out of our love for God (Rnb XVI), which is what we have tried to do throughout these eight centuries" restoring some places which are also dear to Islam.

The visit came to an end with the exchange of some gifts, in particular Cardinal Sandri gave a medal of the pontificate of Pope Francis, bearing the inscription “If you give mercy you will receive mercy” .

 

Giovanni Malaspina