The old year comes to an end and the new one opens in the Holy Land marked by reflection, thanksgiving and prayer: the whole of the Franciscan community in Jerusalem, together with many local religious and faithful, came together around these moments on 31st December and 1st January.
In the celebrations there was a strong invocation for peace and the desire to entrust again everything to heaven was palpable, in the enormous suffering that has overwhelmed and has continued to devastate this Land for too many months.
The first Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God and the Te Deum
The notes of the Te Deum concluded the first Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, in the evening of 31st December, presided over by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton. The Te Deum, linked to the celebrations of thanksgiving, is traditionally sung on this last day of the year to remember and thank the Lord for the year that has just gone by.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, accompanied by Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, currently on a pilgrimage in the Holy Land, were also present at the prayer, which took place in St Saviour’s church. Both wanted to join the Franciscan community for the liturgy which was held in a climate of particular reflection and silence.
The Mass at the Latin Patriarchate
On 1st January 2024, the Mass of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God was held at the church of the Patriarchate and was presided over by Card. Pizzaballa, together with several bishops and religious Catholic authorities of the Holy Land, including Cardinal Filoni, Adolfo Tito Yllana, apostolic nuncio in Israel and Cyprus and apostolic delegate for Jerusalem and Palestine, and fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land.
“This is neither the time nor the place to enter into judgements and evaluations of the situation we are experiencing: we have already heard enough of them,” the Patriarch began in his homily. “Here, today, we must and will turn our gaze to Christ and draw from Him the strength we need to intensify our trust, wounded by so much pain.”
On the day when we also celebrate the World Day of Peace, which Paul VI wanted, the Patriarch brought back attention to it, underlining how real peace is peace built on a sincere desire for encounter, welcome and fraternity necessarily also requiring a path of conversion.”
“We must recognize it, war and its context, is unfortunately the natural environment of the human,” the Cardinal observed. “But if it is true that the human heart is inclined to evil and violence, it is also true, however, that there also subsists in it a desire for peace and life, which is also waiting to find expression. Christ’s birth did not erase evil, but it gave expression and made visible once and for all that desire for peace and life that subsists in our heart and in the heart of every man. Jesus did not solve any of the social and political problems of his time, but he did reveal a way which is still the way forward for those who want to build contexts of peace, even here, today, in the troubled and conflict-ridden Middle East: encounter. Promote, seek, build, cherish the desire for encounter. After all, if we think about it, it means living the Gospel seriously and taking it as a fundamental criterion for life choices.”
Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, so wanted to address a special thought to peace. “Peace, for us Christians, is not simply the absence of war or agreement in relations: but it is a person, peace is Jesus. And so then we can also perhaps understand better the blessing that today we found in the first reading, so dear to St Francis, with the invocation that “The face of God shines on us and shows us his mercy and the peace of God.” The face of God that shines on us is the face of Jesus, the son of God and the son of Mary. And from the Holy Places we must continue to offer the face of Jesus, so that they become the historic testimony of his face.”
At the end of the celebration, before the customary greetings and exchange of good wishes with those present, Card. Pizzaballa also thanked Fr. Peter Filet of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Betharram for his many years of service as Director of Liturgical Ceremonies and Secretary of the Council of Bishops in the Holy Land, in view of his departure for his new mission in Italy.