Palm Sunday in Jerusalem: An Experience!

It is seven o’clock in the morning when the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, makes his solemn entry into the Holy Sepulchre. Although there is already something of a crowd there, it is still quiet compared to what it will be in the coming hours.

Since this year Easter is on the same day for all churches, the five churches that live together in the basilica will make their entries one by one, each celebrating the same messianic entry of Jesus into Jerusalem – each in its own space, each according to its own liturgical tradition, each in its own language.

The Copts and Syriacs were before the Latins, but their relatively small numbers allowed the Latins to bless and distribute the palms in front of the empty tomb in a relatively calm atmosphere. Then followed the procession that wove three times around the tomb: all the faithful, preceded by the priests, seminarians and Franciscan friars. “It’s the most beautiful and impressive moment,” said Pierre Lou who was participating for the first time. The procession is very colorful, with refrains sung to the accompaniment of the grand organ alternating with the rustling of palm fronds held high by the joyful assembly. On each round, as the procession passed the Coptic chapel, the Egyptian women ululated their “alleluia”.

After the procession, the Latins continued with celebration of the Eucharist before the altar of the Apparition to Mary Magdalen, during which the Passion was sung. The three Franciscan friars who sang tried to make themselves heard, but the volume inside the building had mounted considerably. The Greek Orthodox were making themselves heard from the catholicon, the Copts from the rotunda, and although the Armenians were celebrating in their Chapel of the Cross, the bells that rang out from their gallery made them very present.

“It’s an unbelievable cacophony,” declares Silvio, a traveling Italian, “but at the same time I think it’s magnificent. Within this apparent chaos is the essential element of our unity in faith.”
“After all, we are all here for the same thing,” says Javier, who came here from Spain.

And it is not yet over – all of Holy Week will be like this. But until then, most of the faithful who were here this morning will meet again for the afternoon procession.

See also the Franciscan Media Center video – click here

What a procession it is! At 2:30 p.m. a huge crowd is assembled at the little church in Betfage, the very village from which Jesus went down the Mount of Olives to make his entry into Jerusalem. Every year since the fourth century the Christians of the Holy Land have been meeting for the long march in the footsteps of their Messiah, brandishing palm fronds and olive branches. Amidst the “hosannas” intoned by the many different groups participating, we found Vijay, a young Indian of twenty-five years. He came, he says, “to acclaim Jesus, the model of my life and of hope”.

The Franciscans of the Holy Land are also part of the festive march; seminarians with guitars in front, they joined hands and wandered in and out of the crowd. Marie-Paule, a pilgrim from Avignon can’t get over it: “If I had ever imagined that Palm Sunday is celebrated like this in Jerusalem, I wouldn’t have waited 40 years to come!”

A little further along, under the banner of the Nablus parish we meet the ecstatic gaze of Mariam. This is the first time she has been able to participate in the Palm Sunday of which she has heard so much. “I needed a special permit to come to Jerusalem, and this year I was lucky enough to be included among the ones who received it. The celebration would be so much more beautiful if all of us could be here.” When the young Christian says “us”, she means her siblings in Gaza and the West Bank who are forbidden entry to Jerusalem.

As a sign of support their banners are being carried by other believers. They read: “Palestinians demand justice and want peace.” This strong message was taken up by His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal who, with the Custos of the Holy Land and Mgr. Joseph-Jules Zerey brought up the end of the procession.

Having entered the Lions’ Gate, the procession arrived at the court of Saint Anne Church where everyone crowded in and songs of praise rang out anew. His Beatitude then addressed the 20,000 Christians present (according to Louba Samri, police spokesman), saying, “It is not because there are no tanks and soldiers in the streets of Jerusalem that we can rejoice in peace. We have spent the afternoon walking at Jesus’ side, and our procession is an appeal. We proclaim our refusal in the face of this situation of continuous anxiety and instability. As we begin Holy Week, we pray that we can remain faithful to Christ and not give in to despair.”

After the final blessing, the Scouts of Jerusalem took up their pipes and drums, signs of the vitality and conviction that support these Christians of the Holy Land.

See also the Franciscan Media Center video – click here

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