On 29 July, the Custody of the Holy Land celebrated the memory of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, Jesus’ friends, at the Franciscan church in Bethany, also known as the house of friendship, of welcome and of hospitality.
Jesus often came to this place when he went from Jerusalem to Galilee or from Galilee to Jerusalem; he would stop here in Bethany, which in his time like today, was in the outskirts of Jerusalem, a small centre just on the edge of the desert of Judea. In Arabic, the town is known as Al-Eizariya or al-Azariya, which comes from the name Lazarus, the friend Jesus resurrected from death (John 11,1-44).
The celebrations started in the early hours of the morning: fr. Gianfranco Pinto Ostuni, vicar of the Terra Sancta College in Jerusalem presided the first mass in the tomb of Lazarus.
The local community, together with the friars, were then able to take part in lauds and the second Eucharistic celebration, presided by fr. Piermarco Luciano, local Vicar of St Saviour’s Convent in Jerusalem, in the Shrine, rebuilt by the architect Antonio Barluzzi between 1952 and 1953 on top of the archaeological excavations carried out in 1949.
In the comment to the Gospel, the Superior of the Shrine, fr. Eleazar Wroński first brought attention to the passage of the Gospel according to John 11,19-27. “Jesus often came here because he loves Martha, Mary and Lazarus. There is real friendship between them,” fr. Eleazar stressed in his homily. “Martha herself, on the death of her brother, has words that are almost harsh for Jesus, with whom she shares her anger, emotions and fragility. She shares her problems. It is here in Bethany that Jesus becomes the friend of men.”
He then continued, focusing his attention on the figure of Martha: “’Martha, Martha… you fret and you worry for many things,’ Jesus tells her but these words are also addressed to many of us when we fall into perfectionism. And at the same time we forget the real reasons that are at the basis of our actions. We must not enter into the temptation of being perfect, but act so that our actions are always the expression of our love.”
After the liturgy of the Eucharist, the friars, the religious and the faithful went again to the tomb of Lazarus for the visit and the reading of the Gospel (John 11, 1-45).
Afterwards, the traditional pilgrimage continued to the place of the Ascension, which could once be reached on foot but is currently blocked by the wall between Israel and Palestine: in the small octagonal edicule, which holds the memory of the footprints of Jesus and his Ascension, the passage of the Gospel describing this event (Mark 16, 15-20) was read.
The feast-day, as during the pilgrimage of Lent, came to an end with the procession to the nearby church of the Pater Noster, commonly called Eleona, where the Gospel according to Matthew (6, 5-13) was read, which recalls how Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer.