The celebrations of Christmas have also come to an end in the Holy Land, marked by the traditional visits of the Franciscan friars to the various Christian Orthodox Patriarchates, to exchange the visit to the community of the Custody at the Catholic Christmas.
The first part of these visits took place on 9th January immediately after the Orthodox Christmas, celebrated on 6th January. The first Patriarchate that hosted the Franciscan delegation was the Greek Orthodox one. It was Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, who was the first to speak and his greetings were focused on the reconciliation which goes through the incarnation of Jesus. "His testimony of reconciliation started from this city and this Land. Let us pray for the message of reconciliation to be part of the men of good will and for the whole world," the Custos said. Accepting the greetings in the name of the Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus III of Jerusalem underlined that joy is full and complete with the coming of Christ. "We continue to meet difficulties in staying in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem,”Theophilus III added, “but our living together, remaining firmly attached to the Bible, in a world which at times is contrary to peace and reconciliation, is very important.”
It was then the turn of the Coptic community to welcome the delegation of friars of the Custody of the Holy Land to their Patriarchate. It was again Fr. Patton who spoke, recalling the Christmas homily by Pope Francis, adding “as we have received and shared this gift – the son of God born for us–we are happy to be here today. We can hear and see that winds of hatred, enmity and vendetta continue to blow, but we pray strongly that the breath of the dove of the Holy Spirit that brings peace and reconciliation can prevail." Anba Antonius, the Coptic Patriarch of Jerusalem, in reply, made a special mention of the dangerous territories where the Franciscans live. “On this occasion,” said Anba Antonius "we assure you of our friendship and vicinity to your community and also a special prayer for our brothers and sisters who suffer because of violence and war, especially in Syria and Iraq. Let us pray in particular that violence does not increase again in the Middle East. And that the power of this world let us reach the gift of Divine Power, which leads to projects of peace and not of violence."
The Syriacs followed. At their Patriarchate, in the heart of the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, Fr. Patton recalled the need to pray for peace, so that the message of reconciliation of Christmas can be heard, especially in this part of the world and from here, in the whole world. The answer of the Archbishop Gabriel Daho, the Patriarchal Vicar of the Syrian-Orthodox Church was also focused on peace: Jesus was close to humanity because even before the incarnation, but he was closer when he was born in our midst. This is why we pray so that Christ is close to us to reach real peace."
The Ethiopian Patriarchate was also visited on the same day. The Franciscans were received by a representative of the bishop who wanted to emphasize the central idea that at Christmas “2000 years ago, Jesus came from heaven to free us: this gesture made him a sign of peace and unity; this gesture is also one of the things that unite us forever".
Another particularity that characterizes Christmas in Jerusalem is the date of the Armenian Christmas, which falls on 19th January, although following the Julian calendar. After their festivity, the sound of the sticks of the Kawas of the Custody, preceding the Franciscan delegation, could once again be heard in the streets of Jerusalem.
They were welcomed to the Armenian Patriarchate by the ArchbishopNourhanManougian, the Patriarch, who recalled the responsibility of keeping the tradition of the place where Jesus was born alive although we live in a critically divided world. "Let us pray for peace,” concluded the Patriarch, “we thank you for being here with us today.”