Fra Bustos: “This ‘pope of dialogue’ is as exigent as he is prudent.”

In Manger Square next to the Basilica of the Nativity everything is almost ready: the stage and altar are there for the mass that Pope Francis will celebrate tomorrow, the 25th of May at 11:00 a.m. local time before around 10,000 of the faithful (including 4200 from the Galilee). Fra Ricardo Bustos is waiting with anticipation: in a few hours he will embrace a friend.

Fra Ricardo Bustos, from Argentina, is superior of the Franciscan monastery of Saint Catherine, attached to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

In Manger Square next to the Basilica of the Nativity everything is almost ready: the stage and altar are there for the mass that Pope Francis will celebrate tomorrow, the 25th of May at 11:00 a.m. local time, the choir arrangements, the enormous screens and reserved areas for 10,000 faithful (including 4200 from the Galilee). Bethlehem is revitalized for the visit of Pope Bergoglio. Fra Ricardo is excited: “Meetings with Pope Francis,” he says, “are always surprising, unforeseeable. Knowing him, I don’t ask myself what he will do or say. I only hope to be able to see him and spend a moment with him.”

Fra Ricardo is the superior of the Franciscan community in Bethlehem, where he arrived a few months ago after spending a very long time in Nazareth. For him, an Argentine and long-time member of the Custody of the Holy Land’s fraternity in Buenos Aires, to meet the pope is to be reunited with a friend.

“Since the day Bergoglio became archbishop of Buenos Aires,” explains Fra Ricardo, “I have been moved to pray every day for him and his episcopal magisterium. I continued this even after he was elected pope. In Buenos Aires, our brothers invited him a number of times to celebrate mass in our community and to participate in events at the school attached to our monastery, which numbered about a hundred students. In this way a special relationship, a friendship, was born. When I was transferred from Buenos Aires to the Holy Land, to Nazareth, I wrote to him several times. And Cardinal Bergoglio always replied. He is really a very generous person.”

This epistolary relationship continued even after the archbishop of Buenos Aires became the pope “from the ends of the earth”, as he described himself to the Romans on the evening of his election. “I wrote him when I was transferred from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and he replied with his usual simplicity: ‘I am happy. Go in peace to Bethlehem and be a good witness.’ When the Custos was in Rome and told the pope that the new guardian of the Bethlehem monastery was Argentine, the Holy Father immediately replied with greetings for his friend Ricardo. He doesn’t forget people. Actually, everyone has special memories of him that make you understand just how much every person is unique for this man. And he knows that he can always count on my prayers and the prayers of the Sisters Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament (the contemplative nuns at the Milk Grotto sanctuary, a few steps from the Basilica of the Nativity), who have made a vow to pray daily for the intentions of Pope Francis.”

What is in store for local Christians, especially Bethlehem Christians, on the visit of this pope in the Holy Land? Fra Ricardo has no doubts. “The pope is gravely concerned by the situation of the Christians of the Holy Land. He is also a very prudent person; he knows very well that peace is a very fine silken thread that could break at any moment. He will not make ill-considered declarations that might imperil an equilibrium that is already too fragile. That said, on our part we must open our hearts to whatever the pope suggests, without any preconceptions. What is important is not so much what we expect of him, but what his fatherly heart suggests to us, local Christians, to help us understand and interpret the reality in which we live.”

There is one aspect that Fra Ricardo insists on noting. “Francis is a pope of dialogue. He is also an exigent man who demands a serious engagement for the faith and the gospel. I believe that for us, the Christians of the Holy Land, he will very seriously demand that we be the leaven, that we be good witnesses. And that we change the course of history starting with our own vocation, beginning with what he calls ‘the outside’. The outside, not only because of material poverty, but also because of the fragility and existential solitude that still exist in our families and our communities. I thing that this is way that he will indicate for us to be true salt that gives flavor to the concrete situation in which we live.”

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