Deciding to embark on a radical and irreversible path of life is never easy, as are listening to and recognizing your vocation. Fiancés know this before saying “I do” at their wedding, as do the aspiring priests on their path towards ordination. This decision, together with waiting for the big day, was also experienced in Jerusalem by ten Franciscan friars who, on Wednesday 29 June, on the feast of St Peter and St Paul, in the church of St Saviour’s Convent, completed their path towards the priesthood.
"Do not think, my dear ones, now that you have finished your studies and you are finally about to become priests, that your journey is over, that you have reached your destination. On the contrary, it starts now,” the Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins, His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa, warned them during the homily of the solemn mass he presided.
It is effectively an important and fundamental stage in the life of these ten new priests, but not a point of arrival. Conscious and overjoyed at having received the dignity of the presbyterate through the laying of the bishop’s hands, the newly ordained priests expressed their enthusiasm immediately after the ceremony, which was attended by friars, relatives and friends who had come from all over the world. "On the days before the ordination, I couldn’t sleep because of the great excitement,” said Fr. Francisco Martin Casillas, ofm, one of the Mexican friars ordained at St Saviour.
Out of the ten who received the presbyteral ordination, three are from Mexico, six from Africa (Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo) and one from Italy. Only two of them are incardinated in the Custody of the Holy Land, Fr. Marco Antonio Maria Uras and Fr. Pascal Shokwe Kamfwa.
As almost all of them are due to leave the Custody and return to their own countries, these friars will have the honour of taking with them the memory of this land and making known the Holy Land after having spent many years of life and study in the places of Christ: "This land is also called the fifth gospel, because it tells the story of the life of Jesus through the places where He himself lived and worked. My mission will continue elsewhere, but this personal experience in the Holy Land will only enhance my work of evangelization wherever I am called to serve,” said Fr. Juan Carlos Pérez Martin.
It is a responsibility which is also experienced as an opportunity by those who come from places where the Holy Land is little known: "In my country, the Christians do not know the Holy Land well yet, it is a great fortune for me to be here and have lived here. Now I am called to take this richness to them, hoping in the future to also see pilgrims from my country,” said Fr. Fabien Yambere Moudingbelta, from the Central African Republic, who added: "This place helps the faith of the Christians in the world to grow, it has helped me enormously. Through research and further study in archaeology I discovered the places where what we study in the Bible really happened. This will certainly be a basis for my preaching when I return home.”
The challenge awaiting these ten new priests will be above all about the intimate and personal relationship they will keep over time with Christ; this is a relationship which is fundamental for the success of the work of evangelization to be expressed with the people who will be entrusted to them: "in the first place, people want to understand from you whether Jesus is your reason for living or not," said Archbishop Pizzaballa in the homily. "If the question about Jesus is gradually carved out and gives shape to your priestly identity, then your relationship with the people you meet will also take on the same dynamics of listening and formation. Your relationship with Jesus is not only a personal question between you and Him. It inevitably goes through the Church. The Church is the Place where the meeting with the Lord becomes real, concrete and visible. The Sacraments you will celebrate, together with the Word that you will proclaim and your testimony of life, will be the nourishment of your communities. But the relationship of obedience with your superiors, with the Bishops and with Peter, also build up your relationship with Jesus. You cannot say ‘yes’ to Christ without saying ‘yes’ to the Church. The Ministry you are about to receive will not be yours, but it belongs to the Church, which entrusts it to you. The Church today is giving itself into your hands and is entrusting itself to youto continue the work of the Redemption in the world. Be conscious of the precious gift that you have received today.”
At the end of the mass, the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, thanked and paternally exhorted the newly ordained friars, insisting on the dignity and the meaning of the priesthood: "My brother priests, always remember your dignity. Your hands have been anointed, many have kissed them but remember that those hands are not only to celebrate mass or absolve, they have to continue to serve to work as well, they will have to continue to serve the brothers. This dignity, therefore, recognize it, look after it and care for it, but it must always be a humble dignity. Congratulations!"
Ten friars minor received the priestly ordination: Fr. Venence Mukadi Kamutambayi, Fr. Fabien Yambere Moudingbelta, Fr. Théodore Kabongo Mbamba, Fr. Marco Antonio Maria Uras, Fr.Juan Carlos Pérez Martin, Fr. Gonzalez, Fr. Francisco Martin Casillas, Fr. Pascal Shokwe Kamfwa, Fr. Jaques Omari Ilunga and Fr. Fabrice Ntsiba.
Filippo De Grazia