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2011
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When the elderly smile: the friars and the young people of the parish visit the elderly on the feast-day of St. Barbara

Jerusalem, 2nd December 2011

On the afternoon of Friday 2nd December, a group of young Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land organized the traditional visit to the elderly in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, on the feast-day of St. Barbara which falls on 4th December and to whom the local population are particularly devoted. Together with Brother Badie Elias, Vocational Animator for the Holy Land, who worked to promote the initiative, Brother Sandro Tomašević, Brother Claudio Lotterman and Brother Bernardo Moya with their guitars, as well as Brother Luai Bsharat, Brother David Grenier and Brother Ayman Bathish, met at the home of a Palestinian family that is particularly sensitive and active in the parish. They were also joined by several young Christians from the parish of St. Saviour, as well as a boy who played the trumpet beautifully. Small portions of the dessert of St. Barbara, made from wheat, sultanas and chopped almonds, had already been prepared and wrapped, ready to be distributed to homes during the visit. According to the legend, in the period that Barbara, of ardent Christian feelings and determined to dedicate her life to God, spent imprisoned in the tower that her pagan father had built to keep her out of reach of her suitors, the young woman was fed kernels of wheat by the birds. This led to the tradition of preparing desserts using wheat on the Saint’s feast-day.

Going into the street, many children of all ages gathered around the group and accompanied them excitedly and joyously along their route. Together, to the songs dedicated to St. Barbara and the festive music of the guitars, they followed the narrow alleys in the Old City, where many small doors lead into a warren of small apartments, connected by steep flights of steps and landings. Many of these homes belong to the Franciscan Custody, which offers them rent-free to the people and families in greatest need, whilst in other cases, it contributes to the rent and, when necessary, carries out the most urgent renovation and maintenance. “We know and visit more than 100 elderly people,” Brother Badie says with great emotion, “and we look after their needs. Not all these people have a serene family situation where they can be looked after and helped. There are cases of loneliness and abandonment, where the material poverty, difficulties and deprivation the elderly have to cope with are obvious. Going into their homes and visiting them, we can get to know how they live and take action, offering the resources and help necessary to solve the most urgent problems and help them in the most delicate situations.” The young people of the parish, in their turn, are close to the elderly in the neighbourhood, visiting them often, spending time with them and praying with them. On their visit, the Franciscan friars bring holy water to sprinkle in the homes and bless the people living there, accompanying this moment with a short prayer together.

It is a simple gesture, with humble people, but which shows just how great and beautiful human and Christian love and solidarity can be. “We find a lot of elderly people who are greatly moved when we ask them how they are,” Brother Badie also tells us. “But for us, it is sufficient to see for a second their faces grow calm, relax and a smile appear on them. Their joy is our greatest gratification.” In these small homes, even in the poorest, amongst the many signs of the Christian faith that outline their identity, something really extraordinary takes place, the encounter stays in the hearts of them all like a gift, renewing their trust in man because “as long as a human being can be warmed by another’s warmth, the extreme bitterness that renders insensitive has no power over him” (Siegfried Kracauer).

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti

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