2013
custodia.org

Singing Together at Midnight Mass in Bethlehem

French, German, Palestinian and Italian, before meeting for Christmas Mass in Bethlehem, they all join rehearsals of the Custody of the Holy Land’s choir.

You push open the door a little hesitantly. Laughter slips out from outside, people seem to know one another. It’s Hania Soudah Sabbara, choir director, who runs to greet you with a smile… “Ahlan wasahlan, welcome, where are you from,” and a welcome in Arabic and then in English, the choir’s common language. That’s a relief: there won’t be a language barrier. Hania has been directing the choir since 1999, and she is the first woman to direct it. That should tell you how much she dedicates all of her patience and kindness to the choir.

Similarly to the Magnificat Institute—the Custody’s music school (created in 1995 though the “Music in the Heart of Jerusalem” project), that strives to be a venue for meeting and dialog among young musicians of all religions—the Custody’s polyphonic choir brings together Palestinians and expats sharing a common enthusiasm: singing for the glory of God. Some have been singing for years; others are passing through—volunteers or foreigners who wish to participate in the parish life of Jerusalem’s Christian community. Asked about this mix of abilities and languages, Hania is quick to reply, “Jerusalem is not only for the Christians of Palestine; we’re open to the whole world. I do my best to help each of them, whatever their level of ability, to progress. For example, I transliterate the Arabic songs in Western letters.”

Now the rehearsal is ticking along in view of the Midnight and Epiphany Masses, which following tradition will be celebrated in Bethlehem. “Silent Night” and “Angels We Have Heard on High” sound out in Latin, and then hymns in Arabic, with Lillahi Majdon, including “Glory to God”. Suddenly, you feel that Christmas is very close; the atmosphere is studious, but also festive.

It is all this diversity that caused Emilie, a French volunteer who arrived two weeks ago, to make up her mind: “I had heard about a mixed choir, and I wanted to live my faith alongside the Christians of the Holy Land. It’s also a fun way to learn Arabic,” she says, darting a complicit glance at her neighbor. To her right is Rowina, a Palestinian Christian in her thirties from Jerusalem, singing with the altos: “I have a lot of fun. Imagine—I don’t know how to read music, but I’m learning!” That is not the case for Nadia, whose delicate form is among the sopranos: “I’ve studied music for many years at the Magnificat Institute, and this choir is one of the rare ones that are frequented by both amateurs and professionals. I joined it four years ago because I wanted to continue to meet people from different horizons all over the world.” For Andrea, a German journalist who has been in Jerusalem for three years, this is an opportunity “to say thank you and to serve the Christian community” who welcomed her.

Benedict XVI wrote: “I hope that the harmony of music and song, which knows no social or religious barriers, will be a constant invitation to believers and all people of good will to seek together the universal language of love.” The choir of the Custody of the Holy Land tells us yet again just how much Jerusalem is a city for sharing.

Emilie Rey

To join the choir, participate in a rehearsal. They take place inside the Custody(*) every Thursday and Saturday from 6:00 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.

*Enter through the New Gate, turn left right away, go through the passage and then to the far side of the left-hand courtyard. For more information: choir@custodia.org or telephone +972-2-6266609.

To learn more about the Magnificat, please visit the Institute’s site: http://www.magnificat.custodia.org

Photo ©Andrea Krogmann

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