On Thursday 11 January, the new Consul-General of France in Jerusalem, Nicolas Kassianides made his first entrance in the holy city, followed by his official visit to the Holy Sepulchre.
The close bond between France and the Custody of the Holy Land dates back to the Ottoman period when, in the 16th century, the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, with the Treaty of the Capitulations, entrusted the protection of the Holy Places to France. Since then, the Custody and France have always worked together, each in their own way, to defend the holy places and support the local Christian communities.
In time, the Custody received the support of other Latin nations (Italy, Spain and Belgium) but the Consul-General of France is still the only foreign diplomat who has the privilege of an official visit to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.
Entrance from the Jaffa Gate and visit to the Sepulchre
Nicolas Kassianides went through the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem at 2.15 p.m., in heavy rain but this did not discourage the participation of many Franciscan friars who were waiting for him at the entrance to the Gate.
The procession, made up of the Consul General and his wife, diplomatic personnel and many French religious and citizens living in the country, went through the narrow streets of the Old City, preceded by the kawas. The President of the Holy Sepulchre, Fra Stéphane Milovitch and the heads of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities were waiting for him at the entrance to the Basilica and they accompanied him to the Edicule, where Fra Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, welcomed him warmly.
The Custos of the Holy Land welcomes the Consul
Facing the Tomb, the Custos of the Holy Land welcomed him: “Allow me to welcome you with the words of St Francis, which are so closely linked to the current situation: “May the Lord give you his peace.” It is at one and the same time a blessing and a greeting of hope for a diplomat dedicated to the peaceful solution of problems and conflicts.” The Custos emphasized the power of the empty Tomb, quoting the principles of the motto of the French Republic: “For a Christian, there is no place that is more significant and a source of divine power than this empty Tomb. It is the place where Jesus made us all Brothers as children of the same God, for this reason equal in dignity and free from death and sin.”
“France’s support to the Custody of the Holy Land,” Fra Francesco Patton insisted, “continues even today, not only in financial support for our schools and for the Terra Sancta Museum, but also in the attention for the communities that have been entrusted to us, in the concern we share for the current situation of war and in the effort to keep a balance through the Status Quo, in particular in Jerusalem.”
After the proclamation of the Gospel of the Resurrection and the blessing of the Consul and of his new mission, Kassianides was able to remain in prayer in the Edicule, before being accompanied by Fra Stéphane for a brief visit of the Basilica, together with his delegation.
The entrance into the Basilica of St Anne
The Franciscan friars them accompanied the Consul-General to the church of St Anne, part of the domaine national français. Here, the Missionaries of Africa fathers in charge of the site welcomed him at the door for the solemn entrance, to the sound of the Te Deum.
At the end of the brief celebration, the Consul-General thanked the Custody, the White Fathers and the Assembly, recalling the current grave situation of war, stressing the solidarity with the populations of the Holy Land overwhelmed by the conflict and forcefully supporting a cessation of the hostilities. “The continuity of the protective role of France is not rhetorical,” the Consul-General said. “This commemoration today is not one which looks to the past, but marks the non-stop commitment and the constant role of our country in safeguarding and protecting the Holy Places and Christians, working together with all of you to build up peace.”