Three days after Christmas, another Important solemnity was celebrated in Bethlehem: that of the Holy Innocents. On 28th December, the Church recalls the episode in the Gospel according to Matthew (2,1-16), which narrates the massacre of all the children of Bethlehem aged two years and under, ordered by King Herod in the attempt to kill Jesus, after having been informed by the Three Magi of the birth of the Messiah.
The solemnity took place in the place where tradition puts the tomb of the holy innocents, where there was perhaps a mass grave. It is the grotto of the Holy Innocents, next to the grotto of St Joseph, linked in turn to that of the Nativity through a passage open only on the occasion of official celebrations. There, the angel is believed to have spoken to Joseph in a dream to tell him to flee to Egypt and save Jesus from the massacre plotted by Herod.
The mass of the Holy Innocents was celebrated on the altar of St Joseph, with the participation of the Franciscan fraternity of Bethlehem, together with members of other local religious communities, for a maximum of about forty people. The celebration could not be presided as usual by the Custodial Vicar, because of the difficulties of movement due to the new lockdown, decided by the Israeli authorities to fight the spread of Coronavirus.
“Today’s solemnity means remembering the children who were killed many years ago precisely in the place of the Holy Innocents,” said Fr. Luis Enrique Segovia Marí, guardian of the Franciscan fraternity of Bethlehem. “The Gospel shows us a king and a child, the confrontation between good and evil, light and darkness. In the end it is never evil that prevails, but good triumphs. Let us be called by the children who again today do not have a mother or father and are in a time of difficulty.” The Franciscan recalled one of the groups who in Bethlehem works with looking after children with health and family problems; the sisters of Bethlehem of the Incarnate Word.
“Due to the pandemic there is a great deal of poverty, as well as many difficult situations to face and children are those who suffer the most,” said Fr. Segovia. “Today we want to renew our commitment so that these atrocities of the past no longer take place and to protect the lives of our children who are the future of the community. This place also reminds us to commemorate all those children who died without knowing why. They are silent witnesses of giving up life for the cause of the faith.”
The guardian of the Franciscan fraternity of Bethlehem also recalled the commitment of the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land in the time of the pandemic. “Our community in Bethlehem and that of the Shepherds’ Field have always continued to welcome everyone who comes to us to take part in the celebrations of this place. The door of the church has always been open, even if there are no more pilgrims. This is a new experience for us, but even in this silence God wants to speak to us. Through this pandemic, God wants to tell us something more.”