The Ascension: the sending-out of the living Christ

The Franciscans celebrated the first Vespers of the Ascension on Wednesday, May 4, in the place where according to tradition, we commemorate Jesus’ ascension to Heaven.
The Ascension Chapel is now located at the “Mosque of the Ascension,” on the summit of Mount of Olives. Although the property is adjacent to a mosque belonging to the waqf, or Islamic law, on the feast of the Ascension Day, Christians can freely and pray.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Franciscans, accompanied by pilgrims and religious from various communities, prayed vespers and sang in procession around the shrine. The Custodial Vicar, Fr. Dobromir Jazstal, presided over the celebrations.
Some friars stood under the small dome near what tradition considers to be Christ’s footprints, while others were praying outside at the entrance and around the shrine. After Compline, the majority of the friars returned to the monastery while others remained on site for the vigils.
After evening fell, it was time to celebrate the vigils. A small congregation of friars and pilgrims awaited beginning of the ceremony. Meanwhile, other friars were busy with the final preparations.
The custodial vicar celebrated the prayer in the shrine next to the rock of the footprint illuminated by candles. As soon as the office of readings was complete, local Galileo pilgrims filled the octagonal room, as they waited for their mass to let out in small groups.
Altars were erected on either side of the door of the sanctuary so as to accommodate the overnight masses. Celebrated by priests from various parishes and religious communities, the feast was celebrated in several languages. As per tradition, after the last Arabic-language mass at 8 a.m. for the Latin parish of Jerusalem, around 9:30 a.m., the Franciscans ended the prayer cycle with a Eucharistic celebration presided over by the Custodial Vicar.
The Ascension mass was almost over but for Fr. Oscar Omari, OFM, this is only the beginning. “Today Christ sent his disciples to work: announcing the Good News to the whole world. They are witnesses to what they saw and heard from the Master. We, too, share in the mission of the disciples, which is to make the living Christ known and to share His glory and joy. What can we learn in practice? In sum, love and mercy. Christ has set us free, and we are called to liberate ourselves in order to then free others.”
For Katarina, a Slovak who came on a pilgrimage with her daughter, this has been an opportunity to strengthen her faith. “There is a special feeling in this place and everywhere in the Holy Land as well. Through our presence, we try to live out the events that took place on the Mount of Olives. When I go back home in Slovakia, I will be strengthened in my faith, and later it will a way of recalling that “I was in the Holy Land on the day of the Ascension, in the chapel where Christ ascended to heaven. What could be more beautiful to renew me in Christ?”

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