Good Friday at the heart of the Earth

Right in the “place called the skull,” Golgotha, which saw the Passion and death of the Redeemer in the heart of this land, local pilgrims and Catholics accompanied Christ in his Passion starting in the morning by venerating the relic of the wood of the Cross and in the evening and by participating in Christ’s funeral procession.

The singing of the Passio in the Christian chapel on Golgotha and the adoration of the Cross were the central moments of the morning celebration, presided over by the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa.  The doors of the Basilica were solemnly opened at 8 a.m., as usual: a member of one of the two Muslim families who in charge of taking care of the keys to the door of the Holy Sepulcher, opened the right jamb and the Catholic sacristan opened the one on the left, allowing the entrance by the solemn procession led by the Kawas (the Ottoman-era guards) and followed by seminarians from the Patriarchate, priests, Franciscans and the Apostolic Administrator Pizzaballa.  During the celebration of the Passion, they retraced the last hours of Christ, singing in Latin the Gospel passage from John’s Gospel with three main cantors and the Magnificat choir.

Despite the many faithful gathered, a deafening silence accompanied the song, emphasizing the sacredness of that moment, culminating in the act of kneeling, by Mons. Pizzaballa and the concelebrants, toward the stone of Golgotha ​​into which the cross of Christ had been inserted.  A passage from Isaiah and one from the Letter to the Hebrews, brought the Liturgy of the Word to a close.  The Apostolic Administrator then exposed the reliquary of the Cross to the friars, celebrants and faithful present, leaving it available for worship.  The rite dates back to the fourth century: in this place on Good Friday for three or four hours, the faithful would process and adore the Cross, while the passages of the Sacred Scriptures concerning the Passion of the Lord were proclaimed for three hours.

After the procession and distribution of the consecrated Eucharist the day before, Mons. Pizzaballa solemnly blessed the faithful gathered in the Chapel of Golgotha ​​and those who waited below, before the stone of anointing.  The doors were then reopened and the friars, priests and faithful were able to leave the church where the Franciscans were replaced by the Armenian seminarians, who were ready to begin their celebrations for the last week of Lent.

A few hours later, from the place that for nine centuries has been understood to be the Pretorium of the Antonian Fortress, the place of Jesus’ condemnation, that is now incorporated into the esplanade of the mosques and became the “El-Omariye” Koranic school, the Friday Via Crucis of the Franciscans was followed immediately by that of the Parish of St. Savior in Jerusalem.  Walked through  in a particular way, the Via Crucis Gerosolimitana goes up the Via Dolorosa toward the Holy Sepulcher, skirting shops in the narrow streets of the Arab market and quickly filling the path that goes from the Flagellation Monastery to Calvary and then to the Edicule of the Holy Sepulcher, where  it ends.

In the evening, it was the time for Christ’s funeral procession presided over by the Custos of the Holy Land Fr. Francesco Patton: an ancient tradition dating back to the line of representations of the Middle Ages, inspired by the Passion of Christ and called Mysteries.  This play  is closely linked to Franciscanism, not only in the Holy Land but in the world, because it is a tradition that since that time, the friars have used to speak to the hearts of God’s people and tell them the stories that theology made too complex for common people to understand due to the degree of instruction and time required.

This play has the function of allowing us to remember the Passion, death and Resurrection in the places where everything happened.  It emphasizes two things: on the one hand it allows us to increase visibility on the fact that Christ really experienced death in the flesh, and overcame it;  on the other hand, it shows how death is necessary for the Resurrection.

A great novelty is also present: a new crucifix with articulated arms that was donated by Colombia and was finished a few months ago and that replaced the previous one during the celebration.  The author is the Colombian sculptor Santiago Ocampo Higuita, 29, who took handled the project with a team of three artists in his workshop in Carmen de Viboral, a small town near Medellín.  “Being represented in this place is a source of great pride for my little town and for my country,” said Ocampo Higuita. “This is called the Christ of Silence, because it represents all the suffering of Colombians, who have been victims of violence and often of inaction by the public administration.” The sacred image was blessed by the Bishop of Sonsón Rionegro, Mons. Fidel León Cadaviv Marín, during a solemn celebration in the presence of a delegation of Eastern-rite priests, Franciscans from the Colombian Holy Land Commissariat and about 2,000 faithful.


Giovanni Malaspina - Nello Del Gatto