The Feast of St. Francis at St. Savior’s Church in Jerusalem

The Custody of the Holy Land pays tribute to St. Francis. At St. Savior’s Church, the solemn celebrations for the feast of the saint from Assisi began with vespers and the transitus on October 3. At 5:30 p.m., the friars processed in, followed by the Father Custos Francesco Patton, who presided over the prayer service. St. Francis, the founder the Order of Friars Minor, died on October 3, precisely 720 years ago, after having dedicated his life to imitating Christ. “It is a significant moment for our custodial brotherhood because we remember our founder,” said Fr. Patton during the celebration of vespers, “and at the same time, we support our young brothers who are still at the onset of their vocational journeys.” During this celebration every year, in fact, the friars who have not yet made their solemn professions, renew their temporary vows.

This is the same day as the saint’s famous transitus, which the Father Custos explained in his homily the meaning comes from the Latin transire and means “to move beyond, to traverse.” “When we speak of death as a transition, we are referring to it as a Paschal experience, a moving beyond, a passing through. This is how it was for Jesus: his death was a passing beyond death, a passing through death. So it was for St. Francis, who before dying managed to tell the doctor: “I welcome sister death; for me it will be the door of life.” The invitation that St. Francis sends us is to live as pilgrims and foreigners in this world, knowing that we have another true goal. The idea of passing through also espouses the idea of being stripped as he was. He stood naked before his father and the community of Assisi at the beginning of his vocational journey, and he wished to repeat this gesture at the end of his life, when he asked to be left naked on the bare earth. He urges us, therefore, to live as pilgrims, “without appropriating anything,” as it is written in the Rule of our Seraphic Father.

During the renewal of the vows, some young friars of the Custody pronounced the formula by which they made their “vow to live for a year in obedience, without property and in chastity” and they promised to faithfully observe the life and Rule of Friars Minor. Later came the moment of transitus, in which St. Francis’ departure from this life was commemorated. The faithful in the church, holding candles and in deep prayer, entered into a meditative silence while kneeling to the words “that most holy soul melted away from its flesh so as to go up the eternal light and his body fell asleep in the Lord.” After the reading from the Canticle of the Creatures and kissing the holy relic of St. Francis, the celebration moved to the hall in the Custodial curia for a moment of brotherly sharing, complete with food and drinks.

The celebrations for the feast of the Seraphic Father also continued on October 4 with the solemn mass at 10:30 a.m., presided over by Br. Martin Staszak, OP, the Prior for the Dominicans. Also present were Mons. Giuseppe Lazzarotto, the apostolic nuncio to Israel, Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator in Jerusalem, Mons. Kamal Batish, as well as the general consuls of Belgium, Spain, Italy, France and other important figures from the political and religious world. The Prior of the Dominicans gave a homily in French, focusing on the figure of St. Francis meant for the people of his era. They really needed him, as well as the founder of the mendicant order, St. Dominic, who both preached poverty. Br. Martin Staszak’s response was, “yes, because St. Francis, who had nothing to give, really gave everything. His lifestyle and his poverty were convincing and were in and of themselves an announcement, a proclamation of the Gospel.” His poverty teaches us that it is “God who enriches us with his grace, which must be the basis for everything that we do,” said the Prior of the Dominicans.

The second vespers on October 4 were, on the other hand, presided over by the guardian of St. Savior’s, Fr. Marcelo Ariel Cichinelli. His homily began with “I asked myself, ‘St. Francis, what attracted you to Jesus?’” He retraced the moments of Francis’ calling, which often occurred in front of a crucifix, and which he always obeyed. What the patron saint of Italy loved about Jesus, as per Fr. Marcelo, was just his obedience, visible to the world on the cross. “I would like to ask Fr. Francis to teach us to love Jesus,” concluded the guardian of St. Savior’s, “but especially to teach us to obey the Father.”

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