Not only in December but also from January 9 to 20, the various churches of Jerusalem exchanged Christmas greetings. In fact, representatives of the Catholic and Protestant churches made their way through the streets of the old city, moving from one patriarchate to another, on the occasion of the traditional Christmas greetings to the Orthodox churches. Christmas is celebrated by the latter on January 7, according to the Julian calendar. On December 29, in the same way, the Orthodox had wished the Catholics a Merry Christmas. The representatives of the various churches were in fact been welcomed by the Custos, Fr. Francesco Patton for the occasion.
It was a cold yet sunny morning on January 9 and the rhythmic sound of the kawas’ sticks awakened the old city. Thus began the path of greeting exchanges as the various communities moved throughout the morning, from one patriarchate to another.
The first appointment for the group of friars who had gathered for the occasion, led by the Custos, the Vicar Fr. Dobromir Jastzal and Fr. David Grenier, is with the Greek Orthodox. “On this occasion, let us pray that the message of Christmas may reach the hearts of all women and men, and that it may bring peace to this region, the Middle East and the whole world,” said the Custos. In his speech, Francesco Patton also stressed the “fraternal bond” between the two communities who “will continue to work together.” The Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus III was grateful and recalled how “during this very difficult time of the rise of extremism and persecution, strengthening this bond is necessary,” guided by the “energy of hope.”
After the traditional coffee, which was accompanied by a song that resonated in the majestic hall of the diwan, the delegation then moved to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. The Custos was welcomed by anba Antonius, to whom he wished a Merry Christmas, also addressing the community afterwards. In his speech, he recalled how these wishes are not just a formality, “there is much more to our meeting: there is a desire to share what we believe, to understand this same mystery we celebrate,” he stressed, as he did also shortly thereafter in the presence of the Ethiopian community. Also present at the meeting was the Syriac Catholic bishop and the Greek-Melkite archbishop, who in turn wanted to wish give everyone his Christmas greetings. After a sip of liqueur and a chocolate, symbols of this moment of conviviality, and then the community got back on the road behind the two kawas.
Last stop: the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate. Once again, the Custos, Fr. Francesco Patton, shook hands with the head of the Ethiopian Church, wishing him a “Christmas of peace and hope.” Once the visits on January 9 were finished, the delegation returned to Saint Savior’s.
On January 20, it was the Armenian Orthodox Church’s turn for greetings. The numerous friars, following the Vicar Fr. Dobromir Jastzal and Fr. David Grenier, in the absence of the Custos, who was on a visit to Italy, were welcomed at the lavish hall of the diwan. “Christmas reminds us that God still loves us and that he has not abandoned us,” said the Vicar, Fr. Dobromir Jastzal, wishing a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the community.
From the Armenian Patriarchate, the kawas then led the delegation to the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate. The Vicar addressed his best wishes to this community, saying “our prayers are for the church of Jerusalem, but also for all of the friars who are now in Syria and Iraq.” He then noted that despite following different calendars, the following is a fact: “Jerusalem has been celebrating Christmas for almost a month. All of us, though on different dates and in different ways, celebrate the birth of the same Son of God, who is our strength and our peace.”