On Saturday 23 September, the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land met in Emmaus El-Qubeibeh to celebrate St Simeon and St Cleopas. They were the two disciples who met Jesus Risen as they returned from Jerusalem to their homes, disappointed by his death. They walked with him for a little while and, at the entrance to the village of Emmaus, they invited him to stay with them. Then they recognized him when he broke bread. This is where the name of the sanctuary, dedicated to the Manifestation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, comes from, “in fractione panis”.
The Mass was presided over by the Custos of the Holy Land, fra Francesco Patton. The celebration is traditionally held at the end of September, close to the religious feast-day of St Simeon and St Cleopas (25 September). In addition to this peregrination, the Franciscans also go to the sanctuary on Easter Monday. It was the superior of the Franciscan community, fra Zaher Abboud, and the friar assigned to the sanctuary, fra José Maria Falo Espés, were the hosts for the day. During the Mass, fra Darlington Ifedioranma Chidiogo renewed his vows in the hands of the Father Custos. The temporary professed renew their vows every year on 3 October, the transit of St Francis. Fra Darlington renewed them earlier because by the end of the month he will be leaving for Rhodes for his “year of Franciscanism”, during which he will also study Greek.
“Stay with us”
The Gospel has fixed forever the invocation of the two disciples to their travel companion, whose identity was still unknown o them: “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over” (Luke 24,29). It was not only a polite invitation to a traveller who risked not finding anywhere to stay for the night, but a genuine invocation, the Father Custos stressed in his homily: “‘It is the invocation of humanity, of so many men and women, of so many young people, who have lost the meaning of life, because they have lost the Easter horizon of life. It is the invocation that also rises from the depths of our hearts, because we need the Risen to walk with us.”
In Cleopas’ house
El-Qubeibeh (in Arabic “small dome) is just on the other side of the wall of separation between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. According to the tradition followed by the Franciscans, this is the village the evangelist Luke talks about. The land on which the sanctuary stands was bought in 1861 by the Marchioness and Servant of God Paolina de Nicolay and donated to the Custody of the Holy Land. Excavations have brought to the light the remains of a Crusader basilica, which includes an ancient dwelling, identified as “Cleopas’s house,” where Jesus stayed for a while with the two disciples. The remains of some houses along a Roman street have been found in the vicinity.
Witnesses of the Risen
As the Father Custos recalled in his homily, when they recognized the Risen, the disciples “left without delay” and returned to Jerusalem to tell the apostles what had happened, “‘Stay with us, O Lord, and – we pray to you - allow us to stay with you forever and like the two disciples Simeon and Cleopas, give our feet wings to become witnesses of your resurrection.”