The intense visit of the Minister General of the Order of the Friars Minor, Fr. Massimo Fusarelli, to the Custody of the Holy Land came to an end on Sunday 24 October. "Over the past few days I have had the confirmation of all the work that the friars minor do here and the importance of this mission,” F. Massimo Fusarelli commented at the close of his visit. “This is only the beginning of knowledge of and strong accompaniment for this beautiful and fragile place, which needs all our help as the Order of Friars Minor."
The first official act was the solemn entrance into the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre on the afternoon of Wednesday 20 October. The procession left from the Jaffa Gate, in the Old City of Jerusalem, in the presence of the representatives of the Christian communities, of the Discretorium of the Holy Land and the Custodial Vicar, Fr. Dobromir Jasztal. After the long procession led by the Kawas of the different Christian denominations and by the many Franciscan friars who had arrived for the occasion, the Minister General, the Vicar General and the Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, Fr. Dobromir Jasztal, together with the Guardian of St Saviour, Fr. Marcelo Ariel Cichinelli officially greeted the three representatives of the communities that live in the Holy Sepulchre at the door of the Basilica, to then be introduced into the Basilica.
As tradition has it, the Minister General kissed the stone of Unction and there met the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, who welcomed him. "Welcome to the Holy Land, welcome to the Holy of Jerusalem, welcome to the holiest place in Christianity, the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the place that saw the will of the Father be done,” said Fr. Francesco Patton in greeting the Minister. On the notes of the “Te Deum" the whole procession went towards the Rotonda of the Anastasis after a short prayer in the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre and the reading of the Gospel by the Custos, Fr. Fusarelli pronounced his monition.
When he finished, the whole group of Franciscans took part in the daily solemn procession in the holy places in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.
The next day, Fr. Fusarelli presided the daily Holy Mass before the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre. "It is a great joy for me this morning to bring in this Eucharist all our Order of Friars Minor, with the grace for the many signs of life that inhabit it and the prayer so that it can be more faithful to the race of Easter morning, to the faith received from the fathers, to the future that the Resurrected One opens up to us,” said the Minister during his homily. "The Lord is truly risen, hallelujah! We can sing it to one another, to be the community of the risen ones that announces and allows the Risen One to be present at this time, in this church, in this fraternity.”
The afternoon continued with the visit to the Terra Sancta Schools in Jerusalem and a meeting with the young friars in formation, at St Saviour’s Convent.
After the meeting with all the friars of the Custody on the morning of Friday 22 October and the participation of the Minister in the weekly Via Crucis of the Franciscans in the streets of Jerusalem, on Saturday 23 October there was the solemn entry into the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
As per tradition for the solemn entrances, the first stop was facing the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Elias where the Minister and the Discretorium of the Custody of the Holy Land greeted the representatives of the parish of Beit Jala. The second stopping place was at Rachel’s Tomb, where the members of the Latin parish of Bethlehem were greeted. This moment preceded the final stop in the city, marking the start of the long procession, the “way of the Stars” following the procession led by the police force and the local scouts.
The children and youngsters of the Bethlehem Terra Sancta School welcomed and accompanied the Minister and the whole Franciscan delegation towards the Basilica of the Nativity.
When they reached Manger Square, at the entrance to the Basilica, the Minister General was warmly welcomed by a large group of local civic and Christian representatives of the Bethlehem community. Following the liturgy respect for solemn entrances, the Custos of the Holy Land Fr. Francesco Patton greeted the Minister and accompanied him into the Basilica of the Nativity to then lead him, after the greetings to the representatives of the three communities that live in the Basilica of Bethlehem, towards the Church of St Catherine ad Nativitatem.
At St Catherine’s, the Custos welcomed the Minister General, presenting the city of Bethlehem, the local pastoral, the school and the parish, but also the recent and past difficulties of the place. "The past two years, due to the pandemic, have been difficult and the city is still suffering because of the pandemic and the absence of pilgrims," commented the Custos. "Let us hope that the pilgrims will soon be able to return and visit this place, visit the holy places and help our local Christians. You, today, are a sign of hope."
Fr. Fusarelli answered this message, first of all thanking everyone present for having come to welcome him. "I feel in particular the union between the Franciscan province of origin, the Lazio-Abruzzo province, in Bethlehem, There too, in Greccio, St Francis wanted to relive Christmas and see with his own eyes the Child Jesus and how that day is Christmas here too a day of hope and joy. I hope that you can keep hope strong for a better future, I promise you my prayers.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Minister visited the Piccirillo Handicraft Center, a project created by the John Paul II Foundation together with the Custody of the Holy Land in 2014. The project has been implemented to meet the economic and social needs of the city’s population, especially people with particular needs. The same evening there was a meeting in Jerusalem with the religious of the Franciscan family, preceded by a concert by the Magnificat School of Music, presented by the Director Fr. Alberto Pari. During the meeting, the Minister General dwelled on the three words chosen by the 2021-2023 Synod: communion, participation and mission.
The last day, Sunday 24 October, was dedicated to Nazareth. After the festive arrival at the Shrine of the Annunciation, preceded by the group of local scouts who welcomed and accompanied the entrance, the Minister General met the Custos of the Holy Land at the entrance of the Basilica. Fr. Patton himself introduced Fr. Massimo Fusarelli into the grotto of the Annunciation, where he dwelled briefly in prayer, to then accompany him to the main altar of the Lower Basilica. After the reading of the Gospel in Arabic by the parish priest Fr. Marwan Di'des, the Custos gave a few words of introduction to the place. “Welcome to Nazareth, this special place where our redemption started,” commented the Custos of the Holy Land. “We entrust your ministry and your person to the protection of the Virgin Mary: may you always answer God with your personal ‘Here I am.”
After brief singing, Fr. Fusarelli answered in his turn. "At the end of the General Chapter, the Vicar general and I went to Porziuncola to entrust our ministry to the Virgin Mary: today, in Nazareth, we want to do the same, entrusting to Her all the brothers and sisters of our Order and the friars so that we may be friars and minors at this time in our lives."
The solemn entrance was followed by Holy Mass in the Upper Basilica and the Angelus, both presided by the Minister General. At the end, the Minister General had the opportunity to visit to close-by shrine of Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
"As soon as I ca, I will also go to Syria and Lebanon,” Fr. Massimo Fusarelli said at the end of his visit. “I think that we have to continue doing what we have been doing for 800 years. Francis wanted us to be instruments, men of reconciliation and peace, living alongside people, supporting them and not leaving them alone, but continuing to guarantee sustenance and a common education for peoples of different religions who live here, precisely to give a future of peace: I believe that this is exactly our vocation."