The solemn Requiem Mass in suffrage for the soul of the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was held on 10th January in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem: this way the whole of the Holy Land wanted to join in the mourning of the Universal Church for the death of the theologian pope, raising its prayer directly from the heart of Christianity, in front of the Empty Tomb, in which he himself, as a pilgrim, had kneeled on 15th May 2009.
This celebration brought to an end a long series of commemorative events that were held in Jerusalem in the past two weeks and which involved the Custody of the Holy Land, the Latin Patriarchate and the other local Christian communities, together with pilgrims, faithful and religious, all united in remembering the late pope.
On 1st January, at the Latin Patriarchate, the day of the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, at the end of the Holy Mass presided by the Patriarch His Beatitude Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton wanted to express his grief for the death of Pope Benedict, in particular by underlining his mission of confirming his brothers in the faith, living to this full, I this way, the ministry of the Apostle Peter.
“Benedict XVI did it in many ways,” stressed Fr. Patton, “with that monumental work for the faith of the Catholic Church (which is the Catechism of the Catholic Church) and through his teachings which are teachings that can keep together the depth of the doctrine and the dogma with the simplicity of communication. Love for Jesus Christ, for the Church and hope were always at the centre of his teaching.”
The Solemn Mass at St Saviour
The Custos then wanted to pay tribute to the Pope Emeritus together with all the friars of the Custody, celebrating a mass in his suffrage on 4th January (the day before the solemn funeral in St Peter’s in the Vatican), in St Saviour’s Church. It was the occasion to remind all the brothers of the important words that Benedict XVI had addressed to the friars of the Custody during his pilgrimage in the Holy Land.
“We, Friars Minor of the Custody of the Holy Land,” emphasized Fr. Patton, “must also thank the Lord for what was given to us as a mandate through Pope Benedict. In Nazareth, speaking to the friars there, he said: “May the Franciscans, who for 800 years have followed in the footsteps of St Francis with their presence in the Holy Land, continue with this message: ‘it is possible to win, it is possible to really create spaces of love and co-existence with the force of the faith and of the announcement of Christ.’ Thank you for everything that you have done, that you do and that you will still do until the return of our Lord.” He did so reminding us what our vocation and our mission was: to be witnesses of the faith in the Holy Land and to be witnesses of encounter, dialogue and brotherhood.” (the complete text in Italian is here).
The Mass celebrated by the Apostolic Delegate at “Our Lady of Peace”
On the afternoon of the same day, the Custos of the Holy Land concelebrated the mass presided by the Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, Apostolic Delegate for Jerusalem and Palestine, at “Our Lady of Peace”, the chapel of the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute of Jerusalem, the seat of its titular church. Mons. Yllana invited all the ordinaries of the Holy Land to join in the celebration, which was also attended by the Maronite and the Greek Melkite bishops and the diplomatic representations of the Palestinian authorities. “He lived what he taught and he enriched the Church.” The archbishop Yllana said in his long homily, “confirming his simple and luminous pastoral teaching, with his way of life and his prayers: a real man of the Church, until the end.”
The solemn Requiem Mass at the Holy Sepulchre
Lastly, on 10th January, the Solemn Requiem Mass was held in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, presided by the Latin Patriarch His Beatitude Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa. The celebration was attended by many representatives of the Christian Churches present in Jerusalem, the civic authorities including the Consuls of the four nations ‘defined Catholic’, as well as pilgrims and faithful who, with their presence, bore witness to their great affection for and gratitude to the Pope Emeritus.
The liturgical book prepared for the celebration contained the full text of the speech that Pope Benedict had made in front of the Sepulchre on 15th May 2009. The Gospel read during the mass was the one belonging to the celebration of the Sepulchre (John 20, 1-9) in which Peter and John run immediately towards the tomb, as soon as Mary Magdalene tells them of the empty tomb. In 2009, on his historic visit to the Holy Land, during the Mass celebrated in the Valley of Josephat, Pope Benedict was able to comment on the readings that we have just heard,” said the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Patton, who delivered the homily.
In front of the Sepulchre, addressing the many faithful, Fr. Patton also wanted to recall the last words spoken in this earthly life by Benedict XVI: “Lord, I love you”: this was Peter’s answer to the question that Jesus arisen asked him in Tabgha, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Benedict XVI, whom we all knew as one of the greatest theologians of the last century, as a simple Christian, as a theologian and professor, as a pastor and custodian of the faith, as Bishop of Rome, as well as in these last years as Pope Emeritus, withdrawn in prayer, always and only tried to tell Jesus, “Lord, I love you,” with his life and his words.” (read the full text here).