The traditional exchange of Easter greetings with the Christian Churches of Jerusalem

The traditional exchange of Easter greetings with the Christian Churches of Jerusalem

“We rejoice for the Resurrection but with our heart in Gaza where they are living through an extended Good Friday”

In the respect of the Status Quo, the traditional visit to the friars and the Custos of the Holy Land was made by some of the Orthodox Christian Churches present in Jerusalem on Tuesday, 2nd April for the Easter greetings, which the Catholics celebrated on Sunday 31st March.

The brothers of the Orthodox Christian Churches (unlike the Catholics who use the Gregorian calendar) follow the Julian calendar and will celebrate Easter on 5th May: it will then be the Franciscans to exchange the visits to the different Patriarchates.  

The exchange of greetings together with a prayer for peace

The courteous visit and the exchange of greetings took place in a climate of great friendship which goes beyond the simple protocol and makes visible the esteem and affection which links the different Christian communities of Jerusalem.

All the representatives of the Church, as well as expressing their sincere Easter greetings and joyously announcing the Risen Christ, gathered in the prayer for peace, expressing deep regret and  concern for the war that continues to devastate the Holy Land, for the communities of Gaza and for the dramatic situation in the West Bank, struck by the absence of pilgrims and for the difficulties linked to the conflict.

The morning visits in the Chapter Hall

The first to be welcomed in the  Chapter Hall of St Saviour’s Convent was the delegation of the Greek Orthodox, led by the Patriarch Theophilus III, who addressed warm words to the Custos and the Franciscans present: “it is our spiritual mission to continue making the light of the Gospel shine even in the most difficult circumstances, such as the ones we are living in. We are grateful that you remain united with us in the common conviction of always being aligned against every form of violence and always working for peace and reconciliation.”

It w then the turn of the Armenians, led by the Chancellor of the Armenian Patriarchate Koryun Baghdasaryan, then followed by the Copts and the Syriac Orthodox, represented respectively by the Archbishop Antonious  and the Syriac bishop, Jakub Jack. The latter, in extending his wishes, recalled how “the conflict underway must not make us forget the hope of the Resurrection.” The delegation of the Orthodox Ethiopians, with at their head the Archbishop Abune Enbakom  was then received.

An extended Good Friday for the Christian communities of Gaza

“This year we rejoice because we can make our annual exchange of Easter greetings,” the Custos of the Holy Land. Fra Francesco Patton, began, addressing the heads of the different communities, “but at the same time we feel great bitterness in our soul thinking of our brothers and sisters, the Christians of Gaza who are living an extended Good Friday due to the war: let us pray so that this Land can become a cradle of peace and reconciliation.” 

The Custos then wanted to share the joy and an important anniversary: “800 years ago, in September 1224, St Francis of Assisi received the gift of the stigmata on Mount La Verna ass a sign of his full conformation to the crucified and risen Christ, bearing the image of the Crucifix in his flesh. In these images we recognize that the  meaning of our Christian life is precisely that of conforming to the Lord Jesus Christ and the crucifix.”

After having received the Ethiopians, the friars and the Custos went to the Greek Catholic Patriarchate, where they were expected by Archbishop Yasser Hanna Ayyash and by the former Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem for the Melkites, Joseph Jules Zerey.  Mons. Yasser Hanna warmly welcomed the friars, thanking them for their fundamental presence in the Holy Land: “You give comfort to the faithful and to pilgrims: not only in looking after the Holy Places, but in giving hope and encouragement, with your strength and your faith.”

The visit of the Latin Patriarchate

In the afternoon, it was the turn of the delegation of the Latin Patriarchate, led by H.E. Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, to visit St Saviour and he also visited the infirmary of the Custody.

In the climate of discouragement and difficulty, the Father Custos recalled the power of the Easter message: “How much we all need to draw hope from the empty tomb around and inside which we celebrated the main mystery of our faith,” Fra Francesco Patton said, “above all now that the whole world is gripped by the anguish of  death due to a climate of war which for so many months had deprived our communities as well of the joy of being able to welcome pilgrims.”

During the visits of the various delegations, the friars of the Custody sang some hymns of the Easter traditions, in Latin, including the 5th century Ad Cenam Agni Providi, Victimae paschalis from the 10th century and the 15th century O Filii et Filiae.

Silvia Giuliano