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Custos of the Holy Land receives new French Consul General at Holy Sepulchre

Tuesday, November 5. At 10:30 a.m. a Custody delegation stood ready at Jaffa Gate. They were awaiting the vehicles that would bring Mr. Hervé Magrot, the new Consul General of France in Jerusalem, to the entrance of the Holy City. In keeping with a tradition that goes back to the mid-nineteenth century, he is the only foreign diplomat having the privilege of making an official visit to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, where the Custos of the Holy Land awaited him in front of the tomb.

At 11:00 the procession, composed of the Consul General and his wife, diplomatic personnel, a number of religious, and French citizens resident in this country, set out, preceded by the kawas. Through the alleyways of the Old City, tourists and pilgrims were surprised by the sight of this procession surrounding a man in diplomatic ceremonial regalia.

In the Holy Sepulchre courtyard, the superior of the Franciscan community, Fra Noel Muscat, and those of the Greek and Armenian communities, greeted the Consul General, who was then conducted inside to be greeted by Fra Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land.

In his welcome address in front of the tomb, Fra Pierbattista underlined the local and universal character of the city of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem is a special city, full of history, symbolism, cultures and religions. It is a city which simultaneously has both a universal and local profile. It is universal because it is always open to the world, for the religious significance it has for billions of believers around the world. But it is also universal because it has enclosed in itself the souls of the world, the religious as well as cultural ones, who during the past centuries have shaped it, making it a special place. Jerusalem has an obvious local profile, because it continues to mark even today, as I said, the religious and cultural identity of the peoples living in this land.” (See full text of the address below.)

The Custos expressed his pleasure that the international community remains attentive to the preservation of this unique character.

After the welcome, Fra Stéphane Milovitch read the gospel of the Resurrection in French. Following the benediction given by the Custos, the Consul General entered the tomb and then paid a short but very complete tour of the structure.

Leaving the Holy Sepulchre, the procession continued to the Basilica of Saint Anne, a French national domain cared for by the White Fathers (Missionaries of Africa). There, Mgr. Michael Fitzgerald, former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Nuncio in Egypt, gave a welcoming address, followed by Mr. Hervé Magrot’s response to the two clerics. The official visit ended with refreshments taken in the Domaine de Sainte Anne.

France is the only country among the four so-called Latin protectors of the Christian communities (including also Italy, Spain and Belgium) to enjoy this welcome. It is also the only western nation to possess national domains inside and on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It owes these privileges to its historic presence in the country with the opening of a consulate under Louis XIII and to the agreements under Francis with the Ottoman sultan, reaffirmed by the agreements of Mytilene (1901) and Constantinople (1913), conferring upon it special responsibilities with regard to the Christian churches and Christian communities of French origin.

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