“On the solemnity of the Epiphany, Bethlehem is the capital of the world: the city that attracts all peoples.” With these words, the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, introduced his commentary on the Gospel on the day of the Epiphany in the St Catherine ad Navitatem church, next to the Basilica of the Nativity.
Epiphany is the celebration of the first Manifestation of the incarnated Lord to the people, represented by the three Magi who honoured him bringing gifts to the grotto where Jesus was born. For the Custody of the Holy Land, it is traditionally celebrated in Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthplace, according to a liturgical and celebratory pattern consolidated also thanks to the Status Quo. As on the first Sunday of Advent, the celebration started by meeting representatives of the parish community of Jerusalem on the morning of Sunday 5th January, which was followed by a second meeting in front of the Orthodox monastery of Mar Elias with the community of the parish of Beit Jala and some local authorities.
After having gone through the checkpoint at Rachel’s Tomb, exceptionally open on this day of celebration, the Custos of the Holy Land and the delegation of Franciscans and parishioners who accompanied him, reached Manger Square to start to solemn entrance. “I want to ask the Lord for all of us,” the Custos said, replying to the greeting of the parish priest of St Catherine, Fr. Rami Asakrieh, “for the gift of being able to interpret the gifts that the Lord places on our path, and the gift of being able to listen to the prophecies to be able to listen to Jesus. We ask, for the whole of humanity, but especially for the Holy Land, that the light of the child of Bethlehem lights up hearts and minds.” After the solemn entrance, as tradition has it, the pontifical vespers were celebrated with the incensing of the Grotto of the Nativity and the Office of the Readings with a new incensing of the Grotto, which brought the first day of celebration to an end.
The following day opened with the Eucharistic Concelebration presided by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, in the presence of the consuls of various European countries. “The readings and the Gospel allow us to understand how the whole of humanity has always been in search of the Child who was born here in Bethlehem,” said Fr. Patton in his comment on the Gospel. “All of history shows us how the heart of each man wants to meet that child. The Gospel reminds us that not everyone wants to seek him the same way and for the same reason; we want to follow the paths of the Magi and make ours the heart and feelings that accompanied them: wise men who knew how to look into the sky and recognize the signs God sends to humanity. This way the star and the word of God point the way to Bethlehem.”
While the Orthodox, who follow the Julian calendar, were starting their Christmas period with their respective solemn entrances into the Basilica of the Nativity, just a few metres away the great celebration of Epiphany of the Latin Christians continued with the solemn Second Vespers in St Catherine’s church. The climax was the traditional procession around the Cloister of St Jerome, facing the Basilica, with the gift of incense and myrrh to the local faithful and the pilgrims who had gathered for the celebration.
"Today Bethlehem is the capital of the world,” concluded the Custos in his morning homily, “a light that can light up the whole world spreads out from this place. May it light up the hearts of all: of the many wise men who are still looking for him today. The hearts of men and women who do not yet know him so that they can welcome him into their lives. May it light up the hearts of the powerful so that they carry on projects of peace and not of war. May it light up and transform the hearts of the Herods of today."