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2013
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Their First Easter in the Holy Land

Holy Week services are over. For some of the young friars, it has been a unique, unbelievable experience – from the joyful beginning when they waved their hands and sang songs to the chords of a guitar while they descended the slopes of the Mount of Olives in the Palm Sunday procession, to its even more joyful conclusion, when they celebrated the resurrection and appearance of Jesus in the village of Emmaus. In between – the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, Good Friday’s crucifixion and death, and the symbolic kindling of the eternal light on Holy Saturday: a succession of celebrations that have doubtless left their mark on those who came to experience their first Easter in the Holy Land.

“For me, it was a marvelous experience,” says Fra Eduardo Gutierrez, standing in front of the door to the Basilica of Emmaus just after the services. “On days as important as this one, we all wanted to be here in the Holy Land,” continues Eduardo, who came here from Mexico six months ago. For him, “active participation in all of the liturgical celebrations” was very important, and led him to a deeper understanding of and greater communion with God. “It allowed me to confirm my Franciscan vocation here in the Holy Land,” he adds after describing just how difficult it was to leave his country, and especially his family and friends. “But I found a new family here, a little homeland,” he concludes before running to catch the minibus that will return him to Jerusalem.

These are the feelings of many of the visiting friars who were staying in the Saint Savior Monastery guesthouse during the celebrations. Originally from India, the charismatic priest Paresh Parmar has also just spent his first Easter in the Holy Land. “This is a transforming experience that has changed the very depths of my being,” he says, speaking in the Court of Saint Helen. “I felt so humble… to the point that on Friday, when I found myself next to the Lord’s tomb, I almost lost consciousness,” he explains, affirming that in that moment he was in a trance state. “Moreover, after these services the liturgy takes on a new sense; it has become much more authentic,” he added. For this Indian priest, whose country numbers just 2.5% Christians, which seems like a small percentage but represents around 30 million people given the countries 1,240,000,000 inhabitants, the most important thing, as he likes to emphasize, is that each of us experience this process of transformation through the catharsis experienced during the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. “Since then, I feel like I’m a new man and I hope to be able to show my community the change that I experienced here in Jerusalem,” he concludes, suitcases ready to return home.

For Ivaldo Envangelista, this is the second time, but he says it was just as intense as the first. “We really need to think of ourselves as privileged, because so many Christians do not have the opportunity that we have to celebrate in this part of the world where all the holy places are concentrated,” explains Ivaldo, who left his hometown of Mendoza two years ago. “But at the same time, this privilege gives us a greater responsibility to others, because it obliges us to develop a greater ideal of service to others,” he continues. This friar insists on the idea that celebrating Easter in the Holy Land is a real privilege, and encourages more pilgrimages. After all, his country, Brazil, has the largest potential because it counts around 150 million Catholics. According to Ivaldo, the important thing is “that we do not lose our sense of community as Christians, because unlike Latin America, here in the Middle East we are a tiny minority, which is why it is the main thing on these important days to demonstrate that we are a living parish.”

After his third Holy Week in Jerusalem, Agostinho Maltavela is a real “veteran” of the celebrations, but he is captivated by the sight of the “novices” experiencing their first Easter here. “You see their reactions and you remember your first time, overflowing with emotions and feelings,” he explains before taking a few snapshots from the panoramic viewpoint of the Emmaus Basilica. “The transition from the Way of the Cross to the Tomb gives an inexplicable feeling that evokes for us the suffering of Jesus,” he continues, turning to us and to others to share the suffering. At the same time, it exhorts us also to share the joy and happiness born of the resurrection, a source of hope in this historical period characterized by crises (political and institutional, economic and financial, moral and value-based) and uncertainty.

The Easter celebrations “should engender a regression that takes us back to the moment when Jesus was here in order to allow us to listen to his words and follow his example,” continues Agostinho, who came here three years ago from Mozambique. “All of us who come here are the two disciples who saw the resurrected Jesus here, at Emmaus, because in reality the gospel is a living thing,” he concludes, underlining the importance of the individual mission of each of us to follow the example of the disciples of Emmaus and transmit to the rest of the world the idea that Jesus’ message has not gone out of date, but lies within the heart of each of us and is manifested in each of our actions.

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