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2015
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The hope in the heart of the wishes to the Orthodox Churches

Friday, January 9. Because of cold and rain the streets of the Old City were deserted by residents. But the sound of kawas echoed while leading religious in procession. The various churches, in fact, went from one patriarchate to another in order to exchange the traditional Christmas wishes. The Orthodox (which continued to follow the Julian calendar when the West adopted the Gregorian one) celebrated Christmas on 7th January. According to tradition in Jerusalem, the Catholic and Protestant churches came to present them their wishes in the following days.

This ritual was already carried out in the opposite direction by Orthodox the day after Catholic Christmas. Thus, many Franciscan Friars walked behind the kawas, escorting the Custos from one patriarchate to the other.

The first station was the see of the Greek Patriarchate. Patriarch Theophilos III, surrounded by a large number of archimandrites and priests, received the Minor Friars in his impressive divan. Speaking of the virtue of hope, the Custos emphasized how Nativity was “God’s answer to our expectations.” “God is not far from us. He stands at the door of our heart and knocks. He is the God-with-us, who wants to be the answer to our fears, “he recalled.

Father Pizzaballa reiterated once again how the Middle East needed this message of salvation that the Holy Land Christians must reflect through their entire lives. “The mission of Christians in the Holy Places must remain, and we hope that the constructive dialogue between our churches can continue to serve the local faithful and pilgrims” pleaded the Custos.

After the Patriarch’s response, who defined the mission of the Christian spiritual leaders as the “maintenance of the sanctity of the Incarnation and Redemption’s place”, the Orthodox guests were able to enjoy the oriental songs performed by a liturgical choir especially brought from Acre. The wishes to the Greek Orthodox Church allowed measuring again the warm and fraternal relations between Catholics and Orthodox.

The Franciscans then went to the Ethiopian Patriarchate, to repeat the same ritual. Quite unprecedented situation (“first time” stressed the Custos): the wishes of Father Pizzabala were pronounced in Hebrew, before being translated into Amharic (the main language of Ethiopia). In turn, the response of the Patriarch was in Amharic, translated into Hebrew and then into Italian by the Custos to the other friars.

The head of the Ethiopian Church insisted on focus his response on the need of the testimony: “We are the receivers of the message of unity and fellowship provided by the Incarnation of Christ. Our life must testify. The Lord gives us strength for our testimony to be effective.”

The third exchange of wishes was for the Copts, made again in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The Custos and the Patriarch respectively recalled the poverty of Christians in the Holy Land, but the importance of their presence and conservation while dealing with various threats. The Coptic prelate was also keen to stress the good relations between Pope Francis and the Coptic Pope Theodoros. Chocolates, liqueurs and coffees offered by the Copts were quickly tasted, since Franciscans were expected by the Syrians in order to conclude the exchange of wishes.

Given the danger represented by the Islamic State and the exile of Christians in Iraq and Syria, the future of the Christian presence in the Holy Land still at the heart of discussions. The Syriac Orthodox Patriarch is clear: “Do not be afraid! The Incarnation of God has reconciled the heavens and the earth; we must take advantage of this union that never pass! Let us pray for God’s grace would be given to us to continue our mission in the Holy Places!

Then the Franciscans set off in procession again to St. Saviour monastery, under the snow which has appeared for the occasion. “The Orthodox would say that the snow came to confirm the date of their Christmas” Said mischievously the Custos.

The previous Saturday, within the framework of wishes’ exchanges, the Nuncio and Apostolic Delegate shared a friendly lunch with the Franciscans.

Nicolas Kimmel

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