The eighth centenary of the birth of the Poor Clares: an ongoing love story

Thursday, 11th August

The many friends of the Poor Clares of Jerusalem have gathered at the monastery of St. Clare over the past few days with sincere emotion and affection for the celebrations of the feast day of the great Saint, the friend and disciple of St. Francis, in the year of the eighth centenary of the Foundation of the Order. It was indeed deeply moving to see how this place of prayer and inner search, standing not far from Mount Zion, on the broad and busy road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, is now a landmark, a centre that radiates life and which is in the heart of many. Alongside the many Franciscans present, the small church of the convent was filled with priests and sisters of other congregations, volunteers, pilgrims and friends who had come to take part in the celebration.

On the evening of 10th August, the First Vespers were presided by the Father Custos, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who led a reflection focused mainly on the meaning of poverty, that extreme “privilege” that St. Clare desired so greatly for her community, so that “the Lord did not let her leave until she obtained what she desired.” The rule written by Clare was approved by Pope Innocent IV on the very day before the Saint died, 11th August 1253. Poverty however, as the Father Custos underlined, does not refer only to the absence of material goods, which Clare always gave up with heartfelt enthusiasm, but also represents a “model of a relationship where the freedom and gratuitousness in the relationship with God and the world are experienced,” giving evidence of a passionate life, able to leave everything to be completely filled by the relationship with God.
At the end of the moving celebration, the Custos gave the solemn blessing with the relic of St. Clare, which is kept at the monastery. A serene convivial moment in the splendid garden brought the encounter to an end.

Once again, on the morning of 11th August, the small church of the Convent of the Poor Clares was filled for the celebration of Holy Mass presided by Mons. William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The concelebrants were Father Frédéric Manns ofm, spiritual assistant to the community of the Poor Clares in Jerusalem and Father Stéphane Milovitch ofm, the present Guardian of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Taking inspiration from the images of Jesus as the “good shepherd” and “the gate for the sheep” in the Gospel according to St. John (John 10,1-18), Mons. Shomali recalled the twofold function of the gate, as a closure, offering protection and safety for those who are inside and as an opening, with a welcome and hospitality for all. These are the very important tasks of the gate of a convent, but also the gate of the Church through its priests. Like Christ, the “good shepherd who knows each of his sheep very well, looks after them, protects them and is ready to lay down his life for them (John 10,11), the Lord also invites us to follow his example of loving and looking after the life of others. “Generations of men and women over the centuries have offered themselves fully so that the Gospel and love are transmitted and experienced, so that the ministry of Christ is accomplished and the universal communion of all men is at last fulfilled and peace and justice reign.”

The moment of the Offertory, animated with a delicate and elegant touch by a young Poor Clare from Rwanda who, intoning a liturgical song in her language, accompanied the presentation of the gifts to the altar with a light dance, was greatly moving.
At the end of the celebration, before gathering in the garden for refreshments, everybody was able to congratulate the joyous community of sisters, exchanging those few words that are enough to nurture every story of genuine friendship.

A monastery on the edge of Jerusalem, founded at the end of the 19th century by the French Mother Elisabeth of the Calvary, who so greatly desired the presence of the Poor Clares in the Holy Land. An oasis of the spirit which, having overcome the difficulties of recent decades, today has a lively community of 13 enclosed sisters, of different nationalities, a world that is complex but also very genuine in its dynamics and sensibility and which in a few days’ time will welcome a new young woman who wishes to enter the enclosed life in the footsteps of St. Clare. It is a love story that has been continuing for 800 years now. It is a world that is intense in its simplicity and humility, an experience of life that aims to bear witness to the simplicity of the Gospel and joy of welcome in this disputed and suffering land. This is the most genuine meaning, says Sister Cristiana, the abbess of the convent, of the presence in the Holy Land of the Poor Clares, who contribute to faithfully guarding the memory of a story which unfolded in these very places and which continues to live in the small Church of the Holy Land.

God continues to be close and to act in silence, poverty and gratuitousness. It is the extreme “language of the gift” that is the substance of divine life and the authentic relationship with Him. The gift opens up to the mystery of a necessary reciprocity, yet only desirable and conceivable as the fruit of freedom and trust. It springs from a passionate and gratuitous oblative love which in its overabundance accepts bearing with lightness the moral responsibilities of the relationship “as though the whole edifice of creation rested on its shoulders.”

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Giovanni Zennaro

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