2012
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The Basilica of the Nativity– St. Catherine Church, 24-25 November 2012

Solemn Entrance of the Custos in Bethlehem
As now each year, the week before the beginning of Advent is lived in a particular way, with the solemn entrance of the Custos of the Holy Land in Bethelehem for the feast of St. Catherine, Patron saint of the Franciscan Parish.
The traditional feast started on Saturday morning at the Divan in Saint Savior Convent in Jerusalem. Each year this is an awaited event for a convivial moment with the Mukhtar, Mr. Yacob Amer, accompanied by other parishioners and the Custos of the Holy Land, f. Piebattista Pizzaballa, the Custodial Vicar, f. Artemio Vitores,and the St. Savior parish priest, f. Feras Hejazin.
At the end of the meeting the car procession, escorted by Israeli police, followed the long way that leads to Bethlehem starting from New Gate.
The first stop was at the Convent of Saint Elijah, “Mar Elias”. In the antique byzantine monastery one remembers the place where the prophet Elijah rested during his journey to Mount Oreb, which started from Mount Carmel to escape queen Jezebel’s wrath (1Re 19,4-8).
Here is where the Jerusalem parish jurisdiction finishes and the Beit Jala parish (Palestine) starts.
The entrance of the Custos was welcomed with joy by the parish priest, father Ibrahim Shomali, by the Israeli Civil Authority and the whole Christian community in Beit Jala.
After the exchange of greetings a new convoy of cars joined the procession. Only three times a year the vehicles coming from the territories under the Palestinian Authority control, can pass the border with the State of Israel, crossing the separation wall.
As soon as the tomb of Rachel was passed, the Israeli military escorts left their work to the Palestinian police, which escorted the Custos until Manger Square in Bethlehem.
In the square there were many students from Terra Santa schools, the Saint Joseph institute and scouts, dressed in their colored uniforms , together with local authorities, and Bethlehem’s new mayor, Mrs. Vera Baboun; they were all waiting for the Custos’ arrival. At the opposite entrance of the Basilica , f. Artemio Vitores, Custodial vicar, f. Stéphane Milovitch, Saint Catherine convent guardian and the custody’s seminarists and parishioners , all welcomed the Custos.
When the franciscan greetings concluded , the representatives of the orthodox church and the civil authorities solemnly entered St. Catherine church, through the basilica of the nativity, crowded with local pilgrims.
The rite started with the kiss of cross,which is at the entrance of the church, accompanied by the Te Deum notes, the Custos reached the high altar. After the Parish priest , f.Marwan De’ides greetings, the Custos thanked the present and handed to the new mayor a bible, a rosary and a cross.
Mrs. Baboun thanked the Custos underlining that her mission, even though it is a hard one, will be lightened by the Words light.
At the celebration conclusion , the Custos solemnly blessed all the present.
A cordial greeting exchange , in the church’s cluster, concluded the ceremony that was slightly simpler in solidarity with the families of the victims in Gaza.
In the afternoon the father Custos presided the celebration of the first vespers and the procession to the Nativity Grotto.
Sunday the 25th of November, Feast of Christ the King. The celebration of the holy mass at St. Catherine’s church was solemnly presided by the Custos.
The franciscans have been in Bethlehem since 1347 in the convent right next to the Basilica of the Nativity. The church is dedicated to St. Catherine martyr , was built in the XII century and was then expanded and modified.

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