Local faithful and pilgrims crowd the Emmaus Basilica | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Local faithful and pilgrims crowd the Emmaus Basilica

As they are every year, the residents of Al Qubeibe (biblical Emmaus) were surprised to see so many busses and cars parked near the basilica. Hundreds of the local faithful from Jerusalem, various parts of the West Bank and Israel, and pilgrims from places like Spain, Italy, Poland and France came together to celebrate the last day of Holy Week in this place where, after his passion and death, Jesus appeared to his disciples so they would know that the rumors were true: He is truly risen.

Local faithful and pilgrims crowded the basilica to assist at the traditional solemn mass celebrated by the Custos of the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa. Notwithstanding the many folding chairs placed around the nave, many of the faithful had to stand to follow the ceremony because they were so numerous. But Easter joy certainly helped them to follow the celebration of the Eucharist on their feet, followed by a rustic breakfast.

For some of the pilgrim groups, this was the last mass of a pilgrimage that began on Palm Sunday the week before. Needing to leave Al Qubeibe directly for the airport, they ate their individual picnic meals in the gardens. Those who were not on a tight schedule profited from the beauty of the hilltop site with its magnificent panoramic view. Then they went into an old school, transformed for the occasion into a dining room. A simple communal meal was served and shared by the friars and the faithful who were still there… a sharing that was made significant by the location itself.

After eating and spending time enjoying the surroundings, the faithful once again filled the basilica. This time everyone had a seat; no one had to remaining standing for the Easter offices. At the end of the symbolic service, the singing of hymns gave way to the pealing of bells that resounded throughout the valley.

After the services, the Custos of the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, got into his car for the return trip to Jerusalem to the sound of warm applause. Behind his car, the caravan of busses had received authorization from the Civil Administration of Israel's Ministry of Defense to use the Al Jib military checkpoint, which shortened the return trip. If they had been required to use the Kalandiya checkpoint (the main point of passage from The West Bank to Jerusalem), the trip would have been several hours longer.

The celebration at Emmaus is a joyful day filled with fraternal pleasure, when everyone experiences the resurrection and public appearance of Jesus in his or her own way. Encouraged by the day, many of the pilgrims who were leaving promised themselves to encourage their family, friends and acquaintances to come to the Holy Land next year so that they could share this emotional experience.

Julio de la Guardia