The Custody, as per tradition in the Holy Land, wanted to honour the Republic of Italy with a eucharistic celebration on the Saturday following 2nd June: this public holiday commemorates the institutional referendum of 1946 in which the Italians were asked to choose between a monarchy and a republic.
The Consul-General of Italy Giuseppe Fedele, the head of the Consular Department Alberto Invernizzi, the head of the Visa Department Marianna Delle Vedove, the Consul’s assistant Tony Khoury, and the civil and military diplomatic personnel of the Consulate General of Italy in Jerusalem were present at the celebration.
The solemn mass, celebrated in Jerusalem in St Saviour’s church, was presided by fr. Alessandro Coniglio, who welcomed the delegation and all the faithful present in place of the Custos of the Holy Land, fr. Francesco Patton, currently on a pastoral trip to Colombia for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Commissariat in that country.
For the Custody of the Holy Land, these events represent each year thanks for the work done in the past and the present by France Belgium, Italy and Spain, the four Catholic nations that protect and foster the Christian communities in the Holy Land.
“Today’s Mass, like the other consular masses, are not expressions of empty nationalism,” fr. Coniglio pointed out at the start of the celebration, “but rather they express the gratitude of the Custody for the historical links, the bonds of affection and concrete support that the Italian people, through their public institutions, have always shown to the friars and to the Custody. Let us pray so that these bonds become deeper and deeper, and continue to bring the fruits of social and civil development.”
Of the numerous Italian states of the past, it was above all the Kingdom of Naples that played a key role for the Franciscans of the Holy Land: in 1333 the king and queen of Naples, Robert of Anjou and Sancha of Majorca purchased the Holy Cenacle of Jerusalem with very complex negotiations from the Sultan of Egypt, who owned it. The Franciscan friars minor were made its custodians on behalf of Christianity. The two sovereigns of Naples considered themselves the legitimate heirs to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, claiming their direct descent from Frederick II, the husband of Yolande de Brienne, heiress of the Kingdom. The mission in the Holy Land was financed uninterruptedly and the Opera Pia di Terra Santa, today the General Commissariat of the Holy Land of Naples was established for this purpose.
Fr. Coniglio, drawing inspiration from the readings, offered some ideas for reflection on the concept of authority: “The page of the Gospel which we have just listened to has a question on authority running through it,” fr. Coniglio explained in his comment on the Gospel (the full text of the homily is here), “which is also an exquisitely ‘political question’ and the coincidence with this Italian holiday can be providential, for us to wonder what the source of political power is.”
“The author of the Book of Sirach indicates how to set off to seek wisdom, the only thing that can help human beings find a better accomplishment of their aspirations for good and happiness: the first source of this practical wisdom is Our Lord, God […] The real wise man knows first of all that there exists a hierarchy of good in the world, and that at the top of this hierarchy there is the Highest Good, God himself. Almost echoing this truth, St Francis, the patron saint of Italy, was able to write in the Regula non bullata “We must desire nothing other […] than our Creator and Redeemer and Saviour, the only true God.”
“This is a tradition which is very important for all of us at the Italian Consulate,” commented the Consul General of Italy, Giuseppe Fedele. “It is the concrete testimony of what is a historically fruitful and very deep relationship. The presence of the Consulate in Jerusalem implies our special role as tutors and, when possible, of protecting the status quo in the Holy City and protection of the Franciscans. It is a presence that we try to promote, when possible, including through concrete actions of support for the activities of a cultural nature and protection of the historical and artistic heritage.”
The Holy Mass ended on the notes of the Italian national anthem, played on the organ of the church, before the usual exchange of greetings between all those present in the Curia of the Custody.