Feast of the Ascension: Together, Disciples of Christ

Forty days after Easter, the Feast of the Ascension is celebrated in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives at the very place where, according to tradition, the disciples saw Jesus ascend to heaven. The sanctuary became Muslim property after the conquest of Jerusalem in 1187, and a small mosque and minaret were added. Nevertheless, the Franciscans obtained permission for continuous prayer one time each year, and this right was extended to other Christian denominations.

Together with the Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Syriacs and Copts (since Easter was on the same date this year, so is today’s feast), the Franciscans raised their tents around the little chapel.

Since dawn, Fra Amar, the bursar of Saint Saviour Monastery, has been guiding the installations. Now in the early afternoon, he explains, “We have four tents: the sacristy tent, the refectory tent, the logistics tent and the dormitory tent!” The organization is a bit surprising, but pleasant. From the moment of the Custodial Vicar’s solemn entry until the Pontifical Mass tomorrow at 5:30 in the morning prayers and masses will follow one another continuously in small groups inside and around the dome.

Although the Catholics are the only ones who are authorized to celebrate mass inside the dome, they welcome the other Christian communities who would like come for a time of recollection in this place where Jesus last set foot before he rose into heaven. Languages, incense and liturgies mix, clergy and the faithful move from tent to tent, greeting one another, offering a coffee and sharing in the sweetness of the vigil. With Vespers and Compline over, the Custodial Vicar, Fra Dobromir Jasztal, invited, “In this night that is given to us, let us unite our prayer,” to the prayer of Christ.

Keeping vigil, the Catholics of the Holy Land follow one another. Neither Fra Karam and his parish from Nazareth nor Father David Neuhaus, Vicar for the Hebrew-speaking community of the Latin Patriarchate, miss the call. Faithful to the exhortation of Saint Matthew: “Go and make disciples of all nations,” this feast reveals once again and in a novel way the practical ecumenism lived out by Holy Land communities.

Happy feast to all!

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