In a church packed with faithful, the Custos of the Holy Land celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. At St. Catherine's Church in Bethlehem, the 10 a.m. mass on November 27 was, in fact, quite crowded. A choir sang the songs of the liturgy in their red and white uniforms, followed by the congregation made up of children, youth, families and religious. Civil authorities from Bethlehem, including Vera Baboun, the mayor of the city, and a representative of the Armenian community, sat in the front row.
On the occasion of the mass for the first Sunday of Advent, a few couples from the local community celebrated their wedding anniversary. Seated in the first few pews, elegantly dressed and beaming with pride were twenty-seven married couples. Three of them were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and the others their 25th. This event brought great excitement to the church packed with faithful at the time of the blessing of all the couples, who were gathered under the altar.
During his homily, Fr. Rami, the new pastor of St. Catherine's Church, spoke about the reasons for the celebration: the feast of St. Catherine, Advent and the parishioners' weddings anniversaries. “The feast of St. Catherine calls us to be holy as God is holy. How can we be holy? Experiencing a deep time of conversion like Advent, said Br. Rami.” “We must thank the Lord for this holy time, which will bring more faith, more hope and more peace to our hearts, if we live it out as we are supposed to. And if the example of St. Catherine may seem unachievable, there is the example of those couples who have celebrated with us: they lived a Christian life for twenty-five or fifty years despite their diversity. These are couples that have put the love of God in their hearts and who have personally experienced it, and that is what has helped them love each other.”
At the conclusion of the mass, the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, officially presented the new fraternity of Bethlehem to the faithful: the new guardian for the fraternity, Fr. Artemio Vitores, the new pastor for St. Catherine, Fr. Rami Asakrieh, and the new assistant pastor , Fr. Emad Rofael. “Father Artemio has the wisdom and experience of age, Fr. Rami and Fr. Emad have the energy and the enthusiasm of youth,” said Fr. Patton. “I invite you to welcome them as a gift to the community of Bethlehem and to all of you.” After shaking hands, taking pictures and warmly greeting the parishioners, Fr. Rami said: “This brings me great emotion and I feel deeply blessed because it is a great gift to serve the people of Bethlehem and to serve Jesus here.”
Outside the church, with Christmas music and a large decorated Christmas tree, there were stands divided by country selling gifts: this warm sunny morning with clear skies marked the official opening of the Christmas market.