Commemorating Saint Lazarus: the Lenten pilgrimage to Bethany

Bethany, near the Mount of Olives and close to Jerusalem: the village of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. On March 30, this was the destination for a Lenten pilgrimage in preparation for Easter, which aims to trace the moments of Jesus’ life before his death and, above all, his resurrection. For the occasion, two masses were celebrated: at Lazarus’ Tomb at dawn and near the Franciscan sanctuary of Bethany, in commemoration of the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection.

The colorful mosaics shine in the light of the first rays of sunshine: they depict Jesus in the company of Martha and Mary who are kneeling. On the opposite wall, Lazarus is depicted rising from the tomb and along with those present who witness the miracle incredulously. The Gospel according to John, read this morning in the very place where the events took place, talked about this episode. In his homily, Fr. Matteo Munari reflected on the fact that “when we live through a negative experience, our first reaction may be to point fingers: ‘You were not there. You have done nothing,’ just like Mary and Martha said to Jesus. But this passage also shows us how suffering can help to look for life.” The friar then recalled the hardships experienced by migrants and the difficult situations in these lands and in the Middle East. But the experience of the resurrection shows us that you should never give up hope.

“Jesus profoundly experiences human suffering: he cries for the death of his friend, before resurrecting him,” said Fr. Munari. The Eucharistic celebration was presided by the Hebdomdary and it was also celebrated by the Secretary of the Holy Land, Fr. David Grenier. Many other friars of the Custody were present, including the Custodial Vicar, Fr. Dobromir Jasztal, the guardian of St. Savior’s, Fr. Marcelo Ariel Cichinelli and Fr. Stéphane Milovitch.

After mass and praise, breakfast took place, a moment of camaraderie in the verdant courtyard of the church. In Bethany, a town isolated from Jerusalem by the separation wall, there are few remaining Christians. The pastor of Bethany, Fr. Michael Sarquah, said that “there are now just over fifteen families, who live in the vicinity of the parish.” Yet here, “you feel good, you feel like you are with family,” he said. Even Izaki, who came from Jerusalem just to attend this “beautiful celebration with a special atmosphere,” agreed. In between one sip Arabic coffee and another he explained how “good it is good to be here today and to think of being right where what is spoken about in the Gospel happened.”

Once they left Bethany, after reading the reading before Lazarus’ Tomb, the pilgrimage continued. The group moved to the Mount of Olives, to the place where he “was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16, 19): the Ascension of Jesus. Shoulder to shoulder, the friars and those present gathered in the church of the Ascension. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder and were accompanied by liturgical chants. From the Ascension, the group went on to the magnificent Church of the Pater Noster. There they celebrated the teaching of the Our Father by Jesus to his disciples. Walking to the notes of the Ad Sacellum Pater Noster, those present were able to see the transcriptions of the prayer in more than a hundred different languages. After the celebration, once the morning of pilgrimage was over, the group then returned to Jerusalem.

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