The Franciscans of the Holy Land celebrate their founder, St Francis of Assisi

The blaze of a thousand candles advances in thedarkness of St Saviour’s church in Jerusalem: it is the rite of the Lucernarium, the traditional liturgical moment which during the first vespers on 3rd October intends to recall what is known as the "transitus", i.e. the passage from the earthly life to the eternal one of St Francisof Assisi. The founder of the Franciscan order died in the night between 3rd and 4th October 1226, at the end of a life which, from the time of the call to follow Christ, was marked by a continuous preparation “for that paschal transitus which is death.” In Jerusalem, the Franciscans and the faithful gather on these two days to celebrate the Seraphic Father and remember his radical example of an evangelical life.

In St Saviour’s church in Jerusalem, the celebrations which mark this major celebration are held between 3rd and 4th October every year; from the evening of the 3rd, the first vespers, during which some young friars renew, for one year, the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; to the reading of the passage on the transitingus taken from the Franciscan sources, preceded by the rite of the lucernarium.

On the morning of 4th October, the solemn mass is celebrated, presided by the Dominican prior of the Ecole Bibliqueof Jerusalem, following a tradition that expresses the friendship and communion between the two Orders; on the evening of the 4th, the second vespers conclude the celebrations of this heart-felt solemnity.

First vespers

On the evening of 3rd October, the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, presided the first vespers in the presence of a large number of faithful who came from all over the city to be close to the friars in remembering the transitus of the poor man of Assisi.

In his homily, the Father Custos started off from a reflection on the experience of dying that is common to all living beings. For St Francis, this passage was preceded by a constant and daily preparation for death,through a gradual dispossession of his external and internal self. Internal dispossession always represents the most challenging exercise and in St Francis consisted of shedding many things, shown with his life and his admonitions: "Francis teaches us to shed ourselves of our will through obedience; to shed ourselves of the offices that are assigned to us (…),to shed ourselves of envy and pride (…), to shed ourselves of narcissism and the desire to let others know how good we are."

Father Patton then urged the young brothers who were renewing their vows to follow in the steps of St Francis and “gradually shed themselves of everything that is an obstacle and an impediment to you in following Jesus Christand in living according to the Gospel.”

Solemn Mass and second vespers

On the morning of 4 October, the day of the solemnity of St Francis of Assisi, St Saviour’s church was filled with faithful who came in large numbers to offer their tribute to the saint from Umbria, together with the community of the friars of the Custody. According to tradition, the diplomatic delegations  of Italy, France, Spain and Belgium, countries which historically can boast of a special bond of friendship with the Custody of the Holy Land, also took part: respectively, the Consul General of Italy, Giuseppe Fedele,the deputy Consul General of France,

Quentin Lopinot; the Consul General of Spain, Alfonso Lucini and the Consul General of Belgium, Wilfried Pfeffer. In addition, the Consul General of the United Kingdom, Diane Corner, and the Consul General of Greece, Evangelos Vlioras, were also in attendance.

The solemn mass was presided by the Dominican Father Jean-Jacques Pérennes, prior of the Ecole Biblique. In his homily, Father Jean-Jacques expressed, in his name and in that of the Dominican friars, the joy of coming to St Saviour to celebrate “with our Franciscan brothers, he who we also call “our father St Francis.” Reflecting on the life of the poor man of Assisi and his vocation to reconstruct the Church in times of crisis, Father Pérennes added that for this operation, it was not a greater organization or a change of a theological or canonical type that was necessary, but “a return to an evangelical life” which can be realized only through “conforming to the life of Christ.”

Concluding, the preacher asked those present some questions that the celebration of St Francis raises: "What are the challenges of our time that require our evangelical response? Each of us must ask ourselves how we are inhabited and nourished by the gaze of love of the crucified Christ that overwhelmed Francis.”

The day of celebration came to an end with the recital of the second vespers animated by the theology student friars of St Saviour’s convent.

 

Filippo De Grazia