In the respect of the Status Quo, this year again the traditional visit to the friars and to the Custos of the Holy Land by the Christian-Orthodox churches in Jerusalem for Easter greetings was repeated. This is a practice which goes beyond protocol as it is a rare occasion for the different Christian communities to meet, catch up on their news and spend a fraternal and convivial period of time together for the exchange of greetings. The occasion was Easter, which the Catholics celebrated last Sunday, 9th April.
The Catholics follow the Gregorian calendar, while their brothers in the Orthodox Christian Churches use the Julian calendar; under the latter, this year Easter falls exactly one week after the Easter of the Catholics. This chronological different implies that, due to reciprocity, in a week’s time it will be the friars who pay a visit to the Orthodox Patriarchates to extend their Easter greetings.
On Tuesday 11th April, the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land opened the doors of St Saviour’s Convent to welcome the delegations of the various Christian communities of Jerusalem, who came in this order: the Greek Orthodox, led by the Patriarch Theophilus III; the Copts and the Syriac Orthodox, represented respectively by the Archbishop Antonious and the Bishop Jakub Jack; and the delegation of the Ethiopian Orthodox, with at their head Father Gebre Selassie. After having received the Ethiopians, the friars and the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton,went to the Greek Catholic Patriarchate, where they were received by the Melkite Bishop Jules Zire'ai, who spoke in the name of the Patriarchal Vicar Mons. Yaser Al-Ayyash. The latter gave a warm welcome to the friars and gave the Custos of the Holy Land a small gift, thanking the friars of the Custody on this occasion who in their mission confirm that they are “truly the guardians of the Holy Land.”
In the afternoon, it was the turn of the delegations from the Latin Patriarchate, led by Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and from the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate, with the great sacristan at their head, Sevan Gharibian.
All the representatives of the Churches of Jerusalem, as well as extending sincere Easter greetings and joyously announcing that Christ had risen, expressed regret and concern for the season of violence that they have been experiencing in the Holy Land in the past few months. It is a hatred which unfortunately does not spare even the small Christian community, which has recently been the target of a number of attacks that were anything but improvised. Each representative firmly condemned this spiral of violence and stressed their will not to retrocede in the face of intimidations.
In overcoming this climate of hostility towards the Christians of the Holy Land, as well as all the injustices and suffering that are affecting humanity, the Father Custos recalled the power of the Easter message: "We have to be able to receive the Easter gifts of peace and reconciliation because the mission of reconciliation of the Church comes from them. It is only by making it our own and testifying the essence of Easter that we can overcome the contradiction between the mystery we celebrate and the reality we are plunged in. The empty tomb is the origin of our hope and invites us to be witnesses of Christ risen towards the whole world.”
During the visit of the various delegations, some friars of the Custody sang some pieces in Latin, including the Victimae paschalis and the Regina coeli.
Filippo De Grazia