When Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land, Auxiliary Bishop Marcuzzo was still only a seminarian. But to this day he remains impressed by the visit. Now, 50 years later, other seminarians are preparing for the visit of a new Pope. Pope Francis will visit the Holy Land and Jordan at the end of next week, May 24-26.
Returning to the sources – this was the goal Pope Paul VI had set himself when in 1963 he revealed to the astonished Council Fathers his plan to visit the Holy Land.
“The pilgrimage of Pope Paul VI was the key to the understanding of the Second Vatican Council, and conversely, it is not possible to understand his visit without the Council. The return to the beginnings, to the Holy Places of the Faith, to the simplicity of the Gospel – all these things are expressed in his pilgrimage and in the Council,” said Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, in an interview with international charity Aid to the Church in Need. The bishop is the Vicar General and Representative of the Latin Patriarch in Israel, and he resides in Nazareth.
An Italian by birth, he decided while still a seminarian in his home country that he wished to serve as a priest in the Holy Land. When Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land in 1964, Bishop Marcuzzo was still studying at the Catholic seminary in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem.
“It was a bitterly cold January day. The wind was icy. But that didn’t bother us in the least, since we were so full of joyful anticipation,“ he recalled. “Jerusalem had been waiting for three hours for the arrival of the Pope. It was already growing dark, and Pope Paul VI was considerably delayed. We waited for him at the Damascus Gate. My task was to carry the processional cross that was to precede the papal procession through the Old City along the road to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Eventually, he arrived. The jubilation was really indescribable. Everybody, regardless of whether they were Christian or Muslim, rejoiced immensely at his arrival.”
But things did not go quite as planned. The Jordanian police – for East Jerusalem and the Old City at that time still belonged to Jordan – had prepared everything carefully, and the procession was to have wound its way solemnly through the city.
“But that’s not what happened”, says Bishop Marcuzzo with a smile. “Suddenly, chaos broke out. But not from ill will, but from joy. Everybody wanted to see the Pope and touch him. The planned, orderly procession fell apart. I was walking ahead, but at some point I turned round to see where the Pope was.”
The bishop still recalls vividly how, by the time they had reached the Third Station of the Cross, there was complete confusion. “Cardinals had heart attacks, so dense were the crowds; the Pope himself was literally being suffocated by the mass of people.”
Then somebody decided to take the Pope to the convent of the Little Sisters to recover his breath, the bishop recalls. “For at least three quarters of an hour the Holy Father rested there, prayed the Rosary and spoke about the Way of the Cross. I was standing nearby with my processional cross, and I waited to see what would happen next.”
Eventually, the situation calmed down. “Suddenly, the Holy Father emerged and we continued on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – calmly if somewhat chaotically,” he said.
Finally, the Pope arrived, very belatedly, at the place of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. There, in front of the Holy Sepulchre, he celebrated Holy Mass. Bishop Marcuzzo is still moved today by the memory. “During the celebration of Holy Mass I realised: What a man of faith and prayer this is! He appeared quite unconcerned by all the turmoil around him. The most important thing was the encounter with Jesus. He lived in an inner world. For me his homily remains unforgettable. It was a prayer to the Risen Lord.”
The priestly example of Pope Paul VI that he then experienced still remains with him today, Bishop Marcuzzo said.
Today, 50 years later, seminarians from the Holy Land will be again standing near the altar of the Pope. Joseph Sweiss is a Jordanian from the vicinity of Amman. Just as Bishop Marcuzzo once did, he too is studying theology at the seminary in Beit Jala. Along with 11 other seminarians, he was chosen by the rector of the seminary and the papal master of ceremonies to serve at the altar during the Holy Mass to be celebrated by Pope Francis in Bethlehem.
“This is the first time I will have been so close to the Holy Father,“ Sweiss told Aid to the Church in Need. “For us seminarians Pope Francis is a real model of the priesthood. He gives the example of a good shepherd. For me this is very important on my personal journey to the priesthood.”
His fellow seminarian, Salam Haddad, agrees with him. This young man is likewise from Jordan and is in his third year studying theology.
“Pope Francis is greatly loved here in the Holy Land. I am looking forward to the privilege of soon being close to him as an altar server.” Of course he is excited, Haddad said. “After all, this is the Vicar of Christ, the Head of the Church. One cannot not be thrilled at the prospect of meeting him and serving with him at the altar. This is a blessing, especially with this Pope whom the whole world admires.”
Already, for months now, they have been praying the Rosary in the seminary for a successful outcome to the now imminent visit, the two seminarians reveal.
Patriarch Fouad Twal, their bishop, has expressly urged them to do so, they tell us. And they are likewise including the Pope in their own personal prayers. Though of course they are not alone in this.
“Everywhere, in the Holy Land, people are praying for Pope Francis,“ Sweiss said. “We are so greatly looking forward to welcoming him. We Christians are only a small minority here in the Holy Land. Hence it is important to know that the Pope is thinking of us. He will teach us how to live in respect and peace with others, how to be the salt of the earth.”
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)