A Milestone for Liturgy in Hebrew

Catholic Community in Jerusalem Marks an Anniversary

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JERUSALEM, NOV. 24, 2005 (Zenit.org).- It is now a half-century since the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Jerusalem was granted approval to use its language in the liturgy.

Over the past few days, the small Catholic community in Jerusalem that prays in Hebrew, has been celebrating the event, reported the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

The community celebrated its golden anniversary with Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land, who for years has personally cared for this small community «to keep alive the memory of the bond between Christianity and its Jewish roots,» observed Avvenire.

«The community was formed in 1948, when among the families that arrived in Israel there were also mixed marriages,» explained Franciscan Father Apollinare Szwed, a 37-year-old Pole who has been serving the community. «What united them was the fact that, as residents in Israel, they spoke Hebrew.»

So in 1955 an ad hoc program of pastoral care got under way and permission was requested from the Holy See to use the Hebrew language in the liturgy, «a concession that, in the times of the Latin Mass, seemed difficult,» noted the newspaper.

However, Rome gave its approval: Hebrew, considered as a former language of the Church, was used in parts of the rite.

Russian arrival

There are now five Hebrew-speaking communities in Israel. The others are those of Sts. Peter and James in Jaffa, one in Haifa, and another in Beer Sheva.

There are also two new communities of Russians, from the immigrants who arrived in Israel in the 1990s. There are Christians among them, descendants of Jews or spouses of the latter.

To attend to the pastoral needs of this group, the Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem requested help from the primate of Poland, Cardinal Jozef Glemp. Some Polish priests who speak Russian are now assisting these communities.

In turn, the Russian communities are a bridge to the Hebrew-speaking community, as for the new immigrants it is easier to pray in Russian at present. But they know their children will speak Hebrew.

In 2003 the Pope appointed Benedictine Jean-Baptiste Gourion auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Bishop Gourion was the first prelate in charge of the pastoral care of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic faithful residing in the patriarchate’s territory. He died last June, and his successor is yet to be appointed.

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