Passing through Emmaus el-Qubeibeh

A Franciscan sanctuary that has been forgotten by pilgrims since the construction of the separation wall between Israel and Palestine, Qubeibeh is one of four locations where the biblical Emmaus episode is thought to have taken place. Of an impressive size, the Franciscan convent remains at the heart of the village that is now mainly Muslim. Br. Salem Yuones has been its guardian for two years. “I am lay brother, and there is currently no other brother priest available to come and live here. We have set up a rotation, with priests who come to celebrate mass for a week at a time. When this is not possible, there is one priest who makes the round trip from Jerusalem every morning,” said Br. Salem.

This summer, Br. Jean-Hilaire Ardillier—a French priest of the community of Saint John—spent four days at the convent. Having come back delighted with his stay, he said: “This is a beautiful area located in the foothills of Samaria. The convent is in front of terraced hills that have been cultivated for millennia. This place’s beauty, silence, as well as the fact that it is isolated, make it a wonderful place to retreat and to pray. Here Jesus reminds us that he was risen. This is a place where Scripture opens up before you if you let the Word of God inspire you through reading and prayer—at least it did for me. And—he added with a smile—the food is excellent!”

In addition to one Christian family, three communities of nuns live in the village. The Sisters of the Catechism live at the Franciscan sanctuary, and they are specifically manage the convent’s kitchen, as well as a nursery for children from the village. The Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo are also present and they run a clinic. Finally, the Salvatorian sisters are in charge of a home for the elderly and disabled. “The Custody has grown accustomed to celebrating mass for these communities, and it would be wrong to give up this role,” said Br. Salem.

“We provide a service that is highly valued and that doesn’t take that much effort: it is to celebrate these two masses a day,” added Br. Guylain, a Franciscan from Quebec, who spent a week in Qubeibeh. “We felt that the sisters were grateful that we had come. And I was able to continue my research and I read extensively about the history of the place in my free time. The fact that it is rarely visited and that it is almost a hermitage, makes it a place where the way of life focuses on interiority and intellectual work, as well as physical labor, in order to maintain the garden and the buildings, for example.”

The traffic issues related to the separation wall have brought down the busloads of pilgrims that visit Qubeibeh to about only one or two each month. September 25—the feast of Saints Cleophas and Simeon—and Easter Monday—which commemorates Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples after his resurrection—were the only two days of the year when the sanctuary was filled. Parishioners from Jerusalem, the Franciscans and the pilgrims passing through by bus may occasionally stop there for mass and lunch, before the village is once again overcome by peace and tranquility. “The villagers are very kind, and I have not had a negative experience when walking around the village,” said Br. Jean-Hilaire. “People are intrigued and look at us carefully when passing because there are not so many Westerners who come here, but they are very generous and kind to the friar who lives here,” added Br. Guylain.

“The Custody has been caring for the sanctuary since the nineteenth century; it is our mission to do so. So we stay here, in order to maintain this place, welcome pilgrims and live among the the villagers,” stated Br. Salem. Despite the separation wall, and without sufficient pastoral work, the Franciscans are still there. And Br. Jean-Hilaire concluded: “The Custody is very lucky to have Qubeibeh, and Catholics are very fortunate to have the Custody. It is not always rewarding to guard this sanctuary, but the Franciscans do it, and I find that very beautiful.”

Hélène Morlet

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