A solemn procession with the Custos of the Holy Land began Advent celebrations in Bethlehem last Saturday.
The Custos, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, was welcomed by the monks of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and then the new Franciscan guardian, Father Ricardo Bustos.
The Advent ceremonies thus opened on Saturday, November 30, in the city of the first Christmas, through a series of solemn rites with an ancient character that also allowed the faithful to enter into the Christmas atmosphere.
“Solemnity, traditions: they are important here, but they are important everywhere. Because newness always bring freshness – and that is a very positive aspect – but we must not forget that we are what we were. So, having these ancient celebrations does not mean we celebrate the past. It means reminding everyone who we are and where we come from,” Father Pizzaballa said.
After the singing of the Te Deum in St. Catherine and the celebration of the vespers, the Custos draws light from the manger in the Grotto of the Nativity and lights the first Advent candle.The candles of the assembly are lit from that flame and so are the candles of different churches from across the Holy Land.
The day of the Custos in Bethlehem opened with the passage through the Separation Wall: the main entrance was opened as an exception and the Custos was accompanied by a procession of about 50 cars, many of them Palestinian. For this occasion they obtained permission to attend in the square in front of the checkpoint .
“On these occasions, people take the ancient path, which is important,” Father Pizzaballa said. “It tells us that despite all the problems that have made a wound in the geography and history of this country, there is still a historical, traditional aspect that prevails that is also a symbolic sign. In short, it is a sign of the continuity and the fact that the roots of this country are solid and will remain so despite it all.”
After the procession through the streets of Bethlehem, at the square of the Nativity, the procession was welcomed by civil and religious authorities, scouts and students of the Terra Santa College .
“The meaning of Christmas – life, hope, comfort – all of these things are already tangible during this season of Advent that is beginning,” the Custos said.
In his homily, the new pastor of St. Catherine’s, Father Nerwan Nasser, asked all his parishioners for a special prayer everyday as a sign of anticipation and hope for peace, for Christmas and for all the people of the Holy Land.
“I believe – as a Christian, as a believer – that prayer works,” he said. “The Lord sees everything; he knows everything. In his goodness, in the end, there must be a solution. We, as Christians, have prayer as a form of hope for Syria.”