The solemn entrance of the Custos of the Holy Land, fr. Francesco Patton in Bethlehem and the first vespers of the first Sunday of Advent in St Catherine’s church, mark the start of the time until Christmas in the land of Jesus.
The celebrations started on the morning f 26th November, where fr. Patton met the representatives of the Latin parish and the deputy parish priest fr. Louis Khoury in the diwan of St Saviour’s convent in Jerusalem, exchanging the traditional greetings with the Moukhtar, the person chosen to represent the community.
On the way to Bethlehem, the Custos of the Holy Land received the greetings of the Christian community of Beit Jala in front of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Elias: from here, the procession continued its journey to the Basilica of the Nativity, going through the checkpoint of Rachel’s Tomb, opened every year for this occasion.
In Manger Square, a festive crowd of scouts and children from the Terra Sancta schools offered the pilgrims and the faithful who had gathered a truly joyous moment, with the music of drums and bagpipes, which exploded in great enthusiasm when the Custos, after having gone down the traditional Star Street, finally reached the square, accompanied by the vicar fr. Ibrahim Faltas. The civic authorities of Bethlehem then accompanied fr. Patton to the entrance of the Basilica, where the representatives of the other Christian churches (the Greek Orthodox and the Armenians) were waiting for him. On the threshold of St Catherine’s church, the guardian of the Franciscan convent of Bethlehem, fr. Enrique Segovia, was waiting for him: after having put on the surplice and the stole, fr. Francesco Patton then venerated the relic of the Sacred Crib of the Child Jesus, donated to the Custos of the Holy Land by Pope Francis in 2019.
“We are at the beginning of Advent which introduces us to the most important encounter in our lives, which is the encounter with the Lord, the Son of God, who here became one of us,” fr. Francesco Patton underlined. “This is the foundation of the human fraternity, which we want to live in depth. Yesterday, it was the feast day of St Catherine, the patron saint of this parish, who reminds us that love for Jesus is the centre of our existence and is the reason for us to give our lives for others, as she did. I hope that you can all experience this time of Advent as a time when each one of us can get ready to say to Jesus, “for me you are really important and I welcome you into my life.”
With the celebration of the first vespers on Sunday, we officially entered Advent and then came the procession to the Grotto of the Nativity, the heart of the Christian mystery, the place where God became man. Here, at the manger, the Custos lit the first candle of the Advent crown.
On Sunday 27th November, the Custos of the Holy Land returned to Bethlehem to preside, again in St Catherine’s church, the solemn mass of the first Sunday of Advent, concelebrated by the parish priest, fr. Rami Asakrieh: the civic authorities of Bethlehem, the mayor Hanna Hanania and the guardian of the Armenian convent of Bethlehem, Father Aspet were also present. The homily in Arabic was given by the deputy parish priest of Bethlehem, fr. Antonios Habib: “There are three characteristics that we have to bear in mind in this time of Advent: waiting and silence, prayer, and helping our neighbour. Today’s readings remind us that to live this time well, we have to abandon sin, be vigilant and come out of the works of darkness: with the sacrament of confession, we can begin again to welcome the Lord in full into our lives.”
Many faithful and pilgrims, who were at last able to return in large numbers to the Holy Land after the period of the pandemic followed and took part in this year’s celebrations. The Custos warmly greeted an Italian language group from Subiaco. “I am glad to see many pilgrims: I am glad because they can come back and rekindle their faith here in the Holy Land and I am glad for our Christians of Bethlehem who can welcome them and offer them their services, so that they can live respectably from their work. As Custos, it is wonderful to see the places of the Incarnation and the Redemption busy again: and it is particularly important in this period of Advent to be able to come here to Bethlehem, the place where the son of God, Jesus, became man in our story.”