On November 28, a sunny Saturday, the Custos made his solemn entry into the Basilica of the Nativity on Bethlehem, in order to celebrate the beginning of Advent.
The first Sunday of Advent is one of the three feasts that the Franciscans celebrate in Bethlehem, the other two being Christmas and Epiphany. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Father Custos opened the day of celebration by welcoming the Mukhtar Yacoub Amer, the head of the Jerusalem’s Latin community, to Saint Savior’s Monastery. With him, the Custos addressed the question of the life of Christians in the Middle East, while referencing the Syrian example: the extremely difficult situation has not weakened the Christians’ faith. To prevent their churches from being desecrated, they themselves have hidden religious symbols. This strong faith should serve as an example to us.
On the way to Bethlehem, priests from Beit Jala and Beit Sahour welcomed the Custos at the Mar Elias Monastery, at the traditional city limits of the city of Bethlehem.
In front of the basilica, everyone was preparing to greet him. Young boys from the Terra Sancta School and young girls from the Terra Sancta School run by the Sisters of Saint Joseph tried their best to form a path, in which the Franciscan friars stood in line, all while patiently waiting. On the Manger Square, workers installed the Christmas lights on the tree that is several meters high. Boy Scouts announced with fanfare the arrival of the Custos, who was then welcomed by city authorities and political representatives of Christian and non-Christian associations. Inside the Basilica of the Nativity, the Armenian superior and the Greek Orthodox Bishop awaited him, according to the Status Quo.
After entering St. Catherine’s to the sound of the Te Deum, the pastor, Br. Nerwan Al-Banna invited the congregation to pray for the parish of Bethlehem, which is still present despite the hardships associated with the current political situation. The friars had lunch at the Casa Nova, in an atmosphere of joy and brotherhood. The guardian of the fraternity, Ricardo Bustos, highlighted the importance to pray that God may grant this land the gift of peace.
With first vespers following the lunch, the assembly officially entered into the Advent season, thus also beginning a new liturgical year. The Office of Readings that followed was an opportunity to process to the Grotto of the Nativity.
On Sunday, November 29, mass was presided over by the Custos and it brought together the whole parish. The homily by Br. Nerwan suggested a plan for preparing for the coming of Christ, spread out over the four weeks of Advent: “For the first week, we must keep vigil, especially by means of introspection. The second week can be devoted to repentance and forgiveness, while the third week allows us to implement actions in order to welcome the Savior. In the fourth week, let us be ready to obey His will.”
The Christmas market was opened at Manger Square at the conclusion of the mass. Bethlehem is joyfully preparing for the birth of Christ.