The memory of the Holy Innocents: the Vicar presides over the Solemnity in Bethlehem

The memory of the Holy Innocents: the Vicar presides over the Solemnity in Bethlehem

“We are in the third millennium but tragically, in many parts of the world, the massacre of small innocents continues”

Three days after Christmas, the Custody of the Holy Land remembers the Holy Innocents in the grotto of Bethlehem dedicated to them, with the Eucharistic celebration and the first Vespers presided over by the Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, fr. Ibrahim Faltas.

On the solemnity of 28 December, the Church remembers the massacre of the children  ordered by King Herod in the attempt to kill Jesus, as narrated in the Gospel according to Matthew (2,1-16), without parallel in the other canonical gospels. “When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious.  He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.”

The grotto of the Holy Innocents

The Mass was celebrated on the altar of St Joseph,  next to the grotto of the Nativity, which is believed to be the place where an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph,  suggesting they flee to Egypt and save Jesus from the massacre planned by Herod. A few yards away there is a mass grave, which tradition identifies with that of the innocents: three arcosolia are visible here, each with from two to five burial places opening up under them.

The Franciscan fraternity of Bethlehem, including the Guardian of the convent of the Nativity, fr. Luis Enrique Segovia, together with some local faithful and religious, were also present at the celebration.

The figure of St Joseph

“We have just concluded the Christmas celebrations which were a little different compared to other years: without pilgrims and without that climate of celebration that makes Christmas in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, special and unique,”  said the Vicar of the Custody in his homily. “And the liturgy today  puts two details in front of us. On the one hand it illustrates the figure of St Joseph and his willingness to accept God’s project: following his example, he invites us not to be afraid in the face of our lives, which often is full of nights that are difficult to light up.”

A tragedy that is still repeated today

At the same time, there is evil and injustice, which are destroying the lives of many people, today more than ever, with this inhuman war.

The massacre of the innocents that Herod wanted is being repeated two thousand years later,”  emphasized fr. Ibrahim Faltas. “We can still hear today the inconsolable weeping of many mothers who have lost their child, who caress it as though wanting to give a breath of life and tenderness in the brutality of war. Unfortunately, this passage has not remained in the past, but has gone through the centuries and has become gigantic in our present. Today we remember not only an event that is narrated in the Gospel as though it were a past story and does not belong to us, but we are living through it in the first person. We have to act and stop this intolerable scandal, of which the victims are children.”

The Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land concluded with an exhortation: “Let us keep safe the words of the apostle John, which help us enter into the mystery of the Holy Innocents: “this is the message which we have heard from Him and which we announce to you: God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all.”

At the end of the Vespers, in the afternoon, the grotto of the Holy Innocents was incensed after a short procession which brought the solemnity to an end.

Silvia Giuliano