Jerusalem, 27th May 2012
The solemnity of Pentecost, celebrated on Sunday 27th May, concludes the Easter period, 50 days after the Resurrection of the Lord. At the same time, this important date brings recalls the birth of the Church. Its long history draws its vital lymph precisely from what happened on that evening of Pentecost: Mary and the Apostles were gathered in the Cenacle and tongues of fire appeared to them from the heavens, which then parted and settled on each of them, filling them with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gave them extraordinary gifts, which opened up their hearts to the awareness of the faith and their life to the commitment of the evangelical mission. "Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem" (Acts 2,5). Each of them, to their great surprise, heard the great works of God being announced in their own language.
The Cenacle, as well as being the first venue of the nascent Church, hosted the original nucleus of the Custody of the Holy Land and it was here that the Superior of the Custody took on the title, which has been kept ever since, of Guardian of Mount Zion. This is why the Franciscan community of the Holy Land celebrates Pentecost, which once again puts the Holy Cenacle at the centre of attention, with particular intensity and devotion. It was here that Jesus introduced the Eucharist during the Last Supper, that he appeared to the disciples after His resurrection and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit at the end of the day of Pentecost. The Custody of the Holy Land began celebrations on Saturday evening, with the recital of the first Solemn Vespers presided by the Custodial Vicar, Brother Artemio Vitores. On Sunday morning, the Franciscan community of the Custody, together with the local faithful and many pilgrims from all over the world, met at the Parish Church of St. Saviour to celebrate a solemn Holy Mass, presided by the Custos of the Holy Land, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa. The homily was given in Arabic by the parish priest, Brother Feras Hejazin. This was followed by a convivial moment which brought many faithful to the hall of the curia, where the feast day was enjoyed together.
In the afternoon at 3.30, the Custos led the procession of the friars to the Holy Cenacle, on Mount Sion, accompanied by the kawas. The nearby Church of St. Francis at the Cenacle, called the "Cenacolino", which stands near the Cenacle, could not be used this year for the celebration of the Holy Mass because it is temporarily closed for work. This was where the friars, in 1551, expelled from the Cenacle which was transformed into a mosque, sought refuge before moving to the present-day convent of St. Saviour. Traditionally at Pentecost, Holy Masses are said in the Church of St. Francis at the Cenacle in different languages throughout the day. There were nevertheless many pilgrims who went to Mount Zion and reached the Cenacle where, at 4 p.m., the Custos presided, in an atmosphere of intense prayer, the second Solemn Vespers. Today the Cenacle is Jewish property and is open every day to visits by the faithful, but Christians are allowed to hold their liturgical celebrations in this holy place only very rarely. The feast of Pentecost, together with Holy Thursday, is one of those rare occasions and so for all those who have the chance to be present here it is an especially moving experience. When the Lord’s Prayer was recited, many different languages rose together in the ancient room, repeating, after such a long time, the miracle of the many who become one, hearing the revolutionary meaning of Christ’s unique message resound in their ears and feeling it in their hearts, and from different worlds converge in the same story and a single destiny. Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "It was the “baptism” of the Church, a baptism in the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1,5). [...] The voice of God divinizes the human language of the Apostles, who become capable of proclaiming “polyphonically” the single divine Word. The breath of the Holy Spirit fills the universe, generates faith, leads us towards the truth and prepares the unity of the peoples."
By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Eli Hajjar and Brother Adelmo Vasquez