Following the Gregorian calendar, the Solemnity of St Francis of Assisi, founder of the Order of Friars Minor, is also celebrated on 4th October in the Holy Land. This year it is a special feast-day, bringing to an end the celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the pilgrimage of peace by Francis in the Holy Land.
The presence of the Franciscans in the Holy Land goes back to the dawn of the Order: according to tradition, St Francis stayed in the Holy land for several months between 1219 and 1220, peregrinating between Egypt, Syria and Palestine. It was in this period that there was his meeting with Sultan Malik al-Kamil, a symbol of a will for dialogue, capable of overcoming cultural differences, supported by a free and trusting love of God.
In communion with the whole Order and the Universal Church, the solemnity started with the First Vespers on Thursday 3rd October, celebrated in Jerusalem at the Convent of St Saviour and presided by Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land. During the evening prayer, the friars in formation confirmed their desire to join the Order, renewing their vows in the hands of the Custos of the Holy Land. The celebration ended with reading the Transit of St Francis, the piece taken from the Franciscan Sources which relates the last moments of the life of the Saint from Assisi. At the moment of the account of the death of Francis of Assisi, the lights in the church were turned off and the building was illuminated only by the candles of the friars and the faithful: a sign that death is only a transit from carnal life to Eternal Life.
On Friday 4th October, the solemn Eucharistic Celebration in honour of St Francis was presided by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, contrary to the tradition whereby the celebration is presided by a Dominican. The Cardinal, during his comment on the readings, did not fail to mention this tradition, thanking the attention of the two Mendicant Orders which gave him this privilege, which goes against traditions, to emphasize a stronger relationship with the Mother Church. "Wherever we turn, we only hear one cry rise towards God: peace,” commented Cardinal Sandri. "Unfortunately, we continue to see only gestures that divide, fight and even go as far as killing. We ask St Francis for his intercession for this beloved Land and for the whole world, especially for all those places where the presence of Franciscan friars can become the yeast of reconciliation through living the mission, subject to every creative out of love for God.”