The mukhtar and the parishioners of Jerusalem greet the Custos on the day of his solemn entrance into Bethlehem | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

The mukhtar and the parishioners of Jerusalem greet the Custos on the day of his solemn entrance into Bethlehem

Jerusalem, St. Saviour’s Convent, 26th November 2011

On the morning of Saturday 26th November, the representatives of the parish of Jerusalem greeted the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and accompanied him in a procession to Bethlehem for his solemn entrance on the feast-day of St. Catherine.
The feast-day of St. Catherine of Alexandria is a very special event in the religious and civil life of the local parishes. On this day, the Custos leaves Jerusalem and goes to Bethlehem, where he is welcomed by the its civil and religious authorities, to celebrate the solemn feast of the saint who has given her name to the church, the parish and the convent of the Custody of the Holy Land at the Basilica of the Nativity. For a few years now, when the date of the feast-day (which falls on 25th November) is close to the first Sunday of Advent, the entrance has been postponed to the Saturday for pastoral reasons.

The day of the Custos starts with a convivial meeting in the “Divan” of St. Saviour’s Convent with the notables of the parish of Jerusalem, who were received by the Guardian and the Custodial Vicar, Father Artemio Vìtores, the Secretary, Father Silvio De La Fuente and the Parish Vicar, Father Simone Herro. The parishioners were led by their mukhtar, Mr. Yacob Amer. In Arab countries, the mukhtar is the head of the village, the person who, more than any other, enjoys acknowledged authority. Social and civil questions are put to him and the degree of his juridical function varies from place to place. In our case, Mr. Amer is the mukhtar of the Latin parish of Jerusalem and was appointed in 1978 by the then parish priest Domenico Picchi. As well as attending social events in a representative capacity, the mukhtar of Jerusalem performs important functions of a civil and administrative nature, such as issuing the certificates of good conduct required to obtain a number of documents, including passports or the equivalent; the official acts of the mukhtar are recognised by both the State of Israel and Jordan.

In his address, Mr. Amer thanked the Franciscan friars of the Custody for their commitment to the local community, both from the spiritual and material points of view, in particular for their concrete support for the problem of housing and work. Through this, there is an endeavour to curb the phenomenon of emigration by Christians. “May St. Catherine,” concluded the mukhtar, “as a martyr of the faith, be an example of witness and strength for us to sustain the challenges that the Catholics of Jerusalem have to face every day in this very difficult and complex situation.”

In his answer, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa (who spoke in Italian with Father Simone Herro translating simultaneously) thanked Mr. Amer and, through him, the whole parish of Jerusalem. “The very first thing we must do,” the Father Custos said, “to reinforce our faith and our presence as Christians in the land of the Lord, is pray. In the time of Advent, we also express our expectations and our needs. Problems linked to housing, work and family reunification affect everyone, but in particular the Christian community, which is so small. As you know, the Custody is involved in responding to all these issues in a concrete way, in order to maintain the presence of Christians in the Holy Land. I have appreciated in particular that the mukhtar mentioned the new apartments built by the Custody in Bethphage and immediately made available. Other projects are planned in Nazareth, Jaffa and in Syria, which in this period is going through a period of great difficulty; without overlooking Bethlehem and Jerusalem, where the planned actions concern in particular the renovation of buildings. Unfortunately this entails great expense, taking into account that the recession gripping the world is here as well. I thank you all,” the Father Custos concluded, “for your attachment to this city, which is the heart of the Holy Land for us as well.”

At the end of the meeting, Father Pierbattista greeted all those present individually. His parishioners then accompanied the Father Custos to Bethlehem, forming a procession of cars which, escorted by the Israeli police first and then by the Palestinian police force, reached the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Article and photos by Brother Riccardo Ceriani