Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Reunites Communities As Summer Ends

On, Monday the 8th of September, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land made the traditional pilgrimage in honor of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Escorted by the famous kawas, a small delegation of friars from Saint Saviour Monastery went in procession to Saint Anne Church near Saint Stephen’s Gate, the traditional site of the Virgin Mary’s birth.

They were warmly received by Father Dominque Arnauld, a White Father and sanctuary rector. The White Fathers have had custody of this holy site since 1877. However, the Custody presides over this mass because in the 15th century the Franciscans obtained the right to celebrate mass here for the Nativity of the BVM on the 8th of September and the Immaculate Conception on the 8th of December. From the 12th through the 14the centuries, the sanctuary was a Koranic school.

Following tradition, then, a large crowd gathered this year around the Franciscans and the White Fathers. The Oriental Catholic Churches were also represented, with the notable presence of Mgr. Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Catholic episcopal vicar, and Mgr. Pierre Melki, Syriac-Catholic episcopal vicar.

Father Stéphane Milovitch, superior of Saint Saviour Monastery, preached the homily, recalling the tragic events of this summer, and evoking the harsh demands made of Iraqi Christians by “small but cruel groups”. He also recalled the suffering of the Gazan population during the war between Israel and Hamas this summer. Citing both Pope Francis and Pope John-Paul II (in his messages about the Gulf War), the father concluded with a prayer that “the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary bring abundant peace”.

Like every year, this mass is the first of about thirty “consular masses”. Since 1843, the French Consul General in Jerusalem attends various Masses during the year as a reminder of the alliance between François I and Suleiman. These masses follow a special protocol in which the diplomat is particularly honored, with a solemn welcome at the beginning of the ceremony, censing, a seat of honor in the first row, etc.). His Excellency M. Hervé Magro, recently appointed to the post, continued the tradition. This year the ceremony was also honored by the presence of the Consuls General of Belgium and Spain.

This mass, the first after the summer holidays, is the occasion for the local Christian community to meet again and take up the rhythm of liturgies in the holy places. The next such pilgrimage will be on September 14th at the Holy Sepulchre for the Feast of the Glorious Cross.


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