Pope Francis offered some surprises during his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but a less high profile one was an unannounced lunch with the Franciscan monastery of Saint Saviour’s in Jerusalem.
According to Custodia.org the Pope changed his plan on the last day of his pilgrimage to have lunch at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, and turned up at the friary instead, insisting that nothing be changed in either the refectory customs or the day’s menu.
He shared the lunch with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, the Minister General of the Franciscan Order, Father Michael Anthony Perry, the Apostolic Nuncio Msgr. Lazzarotto, and the Custos of the Holy Land. The Pope was seated on a refectory bench just like the friars.
The Pope took the opportunity to encourage those present to continue living out their vocations with humility, adding that the continued existence of Christian communities in the Holy Land are thanks to them.
Due to the reduced entourage, everyone was able to enjoy the spontaneity and homliness of the moment, Custodia reported, including even some elderly friars who came down from the infirmary to enjoy the meeting.
The Pope enthusiastically thanked the religious for their work, stressing that “without exaggeration we can say that the Holy Land is alive. If there are Christian communities, it is thanks to you!”
As he invited the friars to continue living out their vocation with humility, the pope shared an anecdote.
“Once the archbishop of Buenos Aires told me that there are priests who are pushed around or insulted as they walk down the street, with people yelling at them to ‘get a job’. In contrast, no one has ever said this about any of you!”
Barely an hour before lunchtime, Fr. Stephane Milovitch, superior of the monastery, announced the Holy Father would lunch with the friars. Having been informed of the probable visit of the sovereign pontiff the evening before, he and the Custos decided to keep the news a secret until the last minute.
Only Father Amar, the monastery’s treasurer, was told due to the necessary security measures; the Israeli police arrived at 9:30 a.m. to inspect the site.
But for those who were prepared in advance, and those who heard it as they came through the door the excitement was the same.
The Holy Father apologised to the friars for the “two hours’ fast” that was imposed on them because of his late arrival. The community responded by smiling and singing the Regina coeli.
Before returning to his official program and leaving to visit the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Holy Father gave a warm and hearty “Arrivederci – See you again!” and “Pray for me” – that no one in the Custody of the Holy Land will forget.
Franciscan Sister Tiburzia said: “What I felt was inexpressible. You don’t see it, you can’t describe it, but it is absolutely in my heart and will stay there for the rest of my life!” (D.C.L.)