In 2021, Pope Francis, upholding the proposal of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, ordered by decree establishing the memory of Sts. Mary, Martha and Lazarus in the General Roman Calendar, on 29 July. Previously only the memory of Martha appeared in the Calendar.
The reason for this initiative revolves around the important evangelical testimony that all the three siblings of Bethany offered in welcoming, healing and receiving Jesus in friendship.
In the Holy Land, the feast-day of St Martha is traditionally celebrated on 29 July with a solemn mass in Bethany, the place where the three siblings and friends of Jesus lived, and a peregrination which from the tomb of Lazarus moves towards the shrines of the Ascension and of Pater Noster, on the Mount of Olives.
On the morning of Friday 29 July, the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land went to the Shrine of friendship of Bethany, to celebrate not only the memory of Martha but of Mary and of Lazarus as well, who also played an important role in the public life of Christ.
The present-day church was built by the Franciscans in the early 1950s, with the contribution of the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi. The shrine, consecrated in April 1954, stands on top of the remains of three previous churches (two Byzantine and one Crusader) which were saved as far as possible. Both inside the building and in the courtyard in front of it, it is possible to see fragments of the floor mosaics of the two Byzantine churches, while parts of the apse of the first church are visible at the entrance, under the floor.
The liturgy was presided by Fr. Marcelo Ariel Cichinelli, Guardian of St Saviour’s Convent. In his homily, Fr. Marcelo recalled the importance and the role that each of these three friends of Jesus played in the economy of the salvation. "What does it mean to be friends of the Lord for these three figures? We all know Mary, whose figure is connected with hospitality. In the Oriental tradition, hospitality is sacred, so much so that in today’s reading, the hospitality Abraham extended to the three men visiting at the hottest time of the day at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis, 18,1-10a) is recalled. We also know that service is nothing if it is not accompanied by listening. And this is the best part that Mary takes."
Lastly, speaking about Lazarus, the preacher underlined how the detachment that he expresses in the darkness of his tomb represents a first announcement of the resurrection of Christ. The episode of Lazarus bears witness, in other words, to the expression of the power of God. Concluding his comment on the Word, Fr. Marcelo exhorted the faithful to ask themselves how willing they really are to enter into friendship with God.
After the solemn mass, the friars, together with the faithful, had refreshments in the shrine’s facilities before continuing the peregrination, the next stopping point of which was the adjacent site housing the tomb of Lazarus. In front of the entrance to the tomb, the passage from the gospel according to John which relates the resurrection of Lazarus was read out.
After leaving Bethany, the peregrination moved on towards the Mount of Olives, to enter the chapel of the Ascension and conclude the celebrations in the nearby shrine of the Pater Noster.
Filippo De Grazia