Pilgrims of all denominations await the opening of the gates of Jerusalem’s Old City. What time is it? Five o’clock in the morning. Just a few at a time, according to the order of the celebrations, the faithful are allowed to enter and find their way to the Holy Sepulcher in the dark and quiet alleys of the Old City.
At the Holy Sepulcher, the faithful Latin Catholic waited for the Easter vigil impatiently as the Kawas beat their drums. The Franciscans, as per tradition, under the guidance of the Custodial Vicar Fr. Dobromir Jazstal, accompanied the Apostolic Administrator, Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
The celebration began in front of the anointing stone with the blessing of the fire which rekindled the extinguished candles from the newly restored tomb.
The readings succeeded each other after the Exultet. Mons. Pizzaballa proclaimed the Gospel of the Resurrection in the very place of the Anastasis, before the empty tomb.
“From the Mount of Olives to the Holy City. From the Upper Room and to Gethsemane and from Gethsemane to Calvary and the Tomb, the Holy City[’s] liturgies make us run all over the city, like the disciples and the women of the Sepulcher,” said Pizzaballa in his homily while explaining that the proclaimed words and the signs and symbols of the celebration allow us to be faced with Salvation history.
He invited the faithful to re-read Salvation history and to reflect on what it tells us today, and what it means to each one of us. “We should have started our liturgy in the dark of the night. In this case, we can only imagine the darkness. It is significant that we should start there. It is the darkness of our hearts. It is the darkness of the drama of our existence, the darkness of our more real questions, those which we do not know and that alone we cannot answer: what is the point of death? Why evil? What real hope can there be for our lives? Who can give us salvation? What does it mean to be redeemed?”
“The Lord entered into death; he entered into our ‘no’ and into our sin; but since he entered there full of love, he did not remain a prisoner there and came out of it alive,” he explained. “It is as if we were dead and risen with Him. The Eucharist,” he concluded, “is this unbroken passage towards a new life, the life of God in us: it is an unceasing Passover.”
The faithful exchanged their Easter vows, as Egyptian Copts were also awaiting their own celebration.. “I am not worthy to celebrate Easter here in the Holy Land, and even less so at the Holy Sepulcher,” said a woman who was about sixty years of age, wearing a white mantilla. “I am in indescribably joyful; it is a great grace. Please pray for Egypt.”
“My dream was to come to the Holy Land, to go back to the beginning,” said Tamara, who came from Poland. “I wanted to know how Jesus lived, and to see with my own eyes how things are here and how it is to celebrate Easter at the Holy Sepulcher, and I can tell you that it is incredible. Jesus is risen!”