So that peace can truly come: Solemn Holy Mass for the feast-day of Mary, Mother of God and the World Day of Peace | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

So that peace can truly come: Solemn Holy Mass for the feast-day of Mary, Mother of God and the World Day of Peace

Jerusalem, Co-cathedral church of the Latin Patriarchate, 1st January 2012

For 1st January, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and the World Day of Peace, the Pontifical High Mass was celebrated, according to tradition, at the co-cathedral church of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, near Jaffa Gate. The Patriarch, S.B. Mons. Fouad Twal, presided the solemn celebration, assisted by Mons. William Shomali, currently Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem, Mons. Kamal Batish, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Jerusalem, numerous authorities of the Patriarchate, many exarchs of the Oriental Catholic Churches, the superiors of many religious orders present in the Holy Land and the many priests who wanted to take part in this important occasion as concelebrants. The local Franciscan community was also present with several of its members, including the Custody’s secretary, Brother Silvio De La Fuente, the Guardian of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Brother Stéphane Milovitch and countless students and seminarians. The authorities of the Patriarchate included Father David Neuhaus, Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel.

The many concelebrants found a place around the great altar, at the foot of which a statue of the Child Jesus had been placed, whilst at the rear on the left, behind the altar, there was a fine icon of the Virgin with Child, decorated with multihued flowers. The Church was packed with religious belonging to the many consecrated families that live in the Holy Land, numerous local Arabic-speaking Christians, friends, volunteers and collaborators of the Patriarchate and other groups that operate in the Holy Land, as well as small groups of pilgrims. There was also a representation of the Knights and Dames of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta at the celebration of the start of the new year in the front pews. The liturgy was animated intensely and movingly by the Magnificat and Yasmeen choirs of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, conducted by Hania Soudah Sabbara and masterfully accompanied on the organ by Brother Armando Pierucci, director of the Magnificat Institute, the music school of the Custody in Jerusalem.

Before starting the homily, Mons. Twal addressed greetings in particular to all the religious, belonging to different congregations, who had spent their first Christmas in the service of the Holy Land and who had therefore been able to experience in an enthralling way the mystery and the extraordinary gift of the Holy Places. The Patriarch’s reflection then concentrated on the topics that are at the centre of this day of celebration: the figure of Mary and the problem of peace. He made numerous references to the Message by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for this 45th World Day of Peace and which he wanted to present with an educational point of view, Educating Young People in Justice and Peace, with an invitation to “ listen to and reinforce the important role of the new generations in implementing the common good and asserting a just and peaceful social order, where fundamental human rights can be fully expressed and fulfilled”. In the face of the difficulties and concerns that beset many young people around the world today, Mons. Twal stated, in the wake of the Pope’s reflection, that it is essential to establish a new educational alliance between all those responsible for the education and training of young people: parents, educators, teachers, religious and priests must work with young people to build up a culture of peace and promote the commitment to reconciliation and openness to other cultures and religions. There are still many tensions that make the conquest of these fundamental objectives difficult, especially in the Middle East, where the turmoil of the “Arab spring” has not always encouraged the growth of peace and reciprocal understanding and where “a generation of young Israelis and Palestinians has been born and grown up under the occupation and in an atmosphere of violence. Yet Mary, Mother of God, teaches us to look to the new year that begins today with confidence and hope and to consider with faith the three fundamental events that marked 2011: the inter-religious meeting in Assisi last October, which invited all the world’s religions to a prayer for peace, in the light of the spirit of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” because peace has its roots in the heart of man, in his conversion and in his reconciliation with God and with the human family; the “Arab spring” which generated great enthusiasm and great expectations on democracy, peace and social justice, but which conceals the risk of degeneration into extremism and fundamentalism, therefore the education of young people remains an essential component to open up an effective horizon of hope and new citizenship in these contexts; the yearning for peace that rises from the Holy Land and which greatly needs, in order to become reality, the commitment to dialogue between religious leaders who, “whilst they live in a place full of memories that are sacred to our traditions, they experience the difficulties of living together in harmony on a daily basis”, educating the young generations in peace and mutual comprehension, with the contribution of schools and all the other local educational institutions and, lastly, the contribution of the many pilgrims who visit the Holy Land, and who have the opportunity to create bridges of friendship and solidarity between those who are different, with a view to a genuine culture of peace.

If, Mons. Twal concluded, the many educational and pastoral commitments already awaiting the Church of the Holy Land in 2012 allow a glimpse of “peace that is truly arriving,” Pope Benedict XVI exhorts us to always remember that “peace is not a blessing already attained, but rather a goal to which each and all of us must aspire. Let us look with greater hope to the future; let us encourage one another on our journey; let us work together to give our world a more humane and fraternal face; and let us feel a common responsibility towards present and future generations, especially in the task of training them to be people of peace and builders of peace” (His Holiness Benedict XVI, Message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1st January 2012).

At the end of the celebration, all the participants were able to wish the Patriarch and the other authorities a Happy New Year in the Curia and gather for a pleasant convivial moment.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Andres Bergamini