God created us to live forever: the commemoration of All Souls | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

God created us to live forever: the commemoration of All Souls

Jerusalem, Church of St. Saviour, 2nd November 2011

This morning, 2nd November, the parish church of St. Saviour was thronged with people for the solemn Holy Mass of commemoration of All Souls. Alongside Father Simon, who presided the celebration in Arabic, Brother Artemio Vitores, Custodial Vicar and Brother Narwan, who is also very active in the parish, were also present as concelebrants. The many Franciscans and priests who wanted to take part on this important day were at the sides of the altar. The church was full, as well as of many other religious, by very many members of the local Arab Christian community and many youngsters, including the Christian pupils of the girls’ College de Terre Sainte, one of the schools of the Franciscan Custody, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Collaborators, volunteers and friends of the Custody were also present, as well as pilgrims from many different parts of the world.

At the end of the Holy Mass there was the traditional procession to the upper and lower Christian cemeteries on Mount Zion. In a moving atmosphere of deep prayer, with prayers and songs in Arabic and Latin, the procession went through the narrow streets of the Old City of Jerusalem which lead to Mount Zion from the Church of St. Saviour, passing near Jaffa Gate and going through part of the Armenian Quarter. Behind Zion Gate, in the splendid setting of the Cenacle and the Church of Mary’s Dormition, a little further on the right, there is the Franciscan cemetery where many of the friars who in the past belonged to the Custody of the Holy Land have been laid to rest. The procession made a first stop here for the blessing of the tombs, accompanied by the prayers and the moving memories of the living . The group then moves on to the slopes of Mount Zion, not far from the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, for the visit to the two lower cemeteries, where many were able to stop in prayer alongside the tombs of their beloved and lay there bouquets of flowers. Whilst Brother Narwan passed, blessing the site, all the people who were at the cemetery on this particular day but who had not joined in the procession, took part in the common prayer and this evocative moment. In keeping with tradition, all those present were offered a sweetmeat to commemorate those who have already preceded us on the path towards eternity. At the end of the ceremony, before taking their leave, many wanted to pay tribute at the tomb of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who, during the period of Nazism, saved 1200 Jews from extermination. Recognized as a Righteous Gentile amongst the Nations by the Israeli commission of Yad Vashem on 18th July 1967, he died in Germany in 1974 and his body was taken to Israel, to the Catholic cemetery of Jerusalem. Today, his tomb, completely covered with countless pebbles, according to the Jewish custom, is frequently visited by Christians and Jews alike.

The origin of the 2nd November commemoration dates back to the end of the first millennium, in Cluniac Benedictine monasticism. The extension of this commemoration to the whole Church was probably found for the first time in the 14th century Ordo Romanus where 2nd November is indicated as anniversarium omnium animarum. “We have come out of the hands of God, who created us, to live forever,” said Pope Paul VI. The need and the aspiration for eternity that each of us bears in our hearts are universal and have belonged to man in every time. Man is not a “being-for-death”, but intensely desires living and being perpetuated: the very experience of love places us face to face with the desire for eternity and the incapacity of accepting that everything is destroyed in a second by death. We have a pledge in the goodness of God, in His fidelity and mercy: he waits for us and calls us, supporting us on our earthly path with the certainty of our final encounter with Him.

Our actions, however, are in relation with our destiny in eternity and are the tangible sign of our responsibility impressed imprinted in the future life. “We are the ones who form our physiognomy for the future,” Pope Paul VI also wrote and, with reference to our actions of mercy (Matthew 25,31-46) we will be judged because, says the Lord, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” Matthew 25,40). Mercy, or the love that wants to free the other from misery, is the aspect that best reveals the gift of the Father and represents sharing the charity of God to be witnessed to our brothers, especially those who suffer most from material misery (the poor, oppressed, ill, suffering, abandoned) or spiritual misery (sinners, corrupt, blind, perverted. God, in His generosity and in His goodness, allows man to share in his most precious assets, going as far as offering him his Son, who incarnates all the love and mercy of the Father, but asks man for a similar exercise of charity, not only with regard to God but to every other man, because charity excludes no-one from the redemption and becomes more attentive and intense where the misery is greater. God has become closer, he has been revealed in his deepest essence and has “ravished” us in His life: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God! When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory!” (Colossians 3,3-4). And God gives man, each man, the only hope he needs, that of eternity. In front of death, Jesus repeats to us each time: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may also be. Where I am going you know the way.” (John 14,1-3).

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Marco Gavasso