But for those who were prepared in advance, and those who heard it as they came through the door the excitement was the same. Don Gaetano, an Italian priest who was living with the Custody of the Holy Land for a sabbatical year, still can’t quite believe it. “I had just left my room and someone told me the news. I just had time to change my clothes!” Also surprised was Sister Tiburzia, a Franciscan of the Heart of Jesus, and Chef Rami; they discovered that they were not cooking for the friars as usual, but for their pope! Sister Tiburzia is still emotional about it. “I could never even have dreamed of this! Our pope at the table with us!”
The Holy Father had explicitly requested that nothing be changed in either refectory customs or the day’s menu. He even excused himself to the community for the “two hours’ fast” that was imposed on them because of the time of his arrival! The community responded by smiling and singing the Regina coeli. Seated on a refectory bench just like the friars, the pope’s table mates were Fra Michael Anthony Perry (Minister General of the Franciscan Order), Msgr. Lazzarotto (Apostolic Nuncio), Msgr. Fouad Twal (Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem) and the Custos of the Holy Land. The reduced entourage allowed everyone to enjoy the spontaneity and hominess of the moment. Even some of the elderly friars came down from the infirmary to enjoy the meeting.
The pope spoke briefly, enthusiastically thanking the friars for their work, emphasizing that “Thank you for what you are doing in the Holy Land. 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!”
Before returning to his official program and leaving to visit the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Holy Father parted from the friars with a warm and hearty “Arrivederci – See you again!” and “Pray for me” – that no one in the Custody of the Holy Land will forget. Sister Tiburzia says, “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!”
Monday evening, during the Mass celebrated in the Upper Room (Cenacle), Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa spoke about the importance of this site and the mission of the Franciscans in this land:
"The chronicles tell us that the Cenacle was purchased to be given to the Franciscans in 1333; the friars go to the Holy Sepulchre for solemn celebration of the sung mass and the Divine Office. Saint Francis’s openness to missionary evangelization led the friars to the Land of our redemption, and the Church confirmed our mission as guardians of the Holy Places. This site is one of the most wounded in all the Holy Land, witness to the many wounds of the people who live here. But we want to believe that these wounds have a real and mysterious connection to the stigmata of the Passion with which the Resurrected Jesus, here in this place, appeared to his own. We want to believe that this connection is as real and mysterious as the peace that Jesus gave us and left to us, that Peace that is Jesus himself, the Lord who conquered evil and death. Most Holy Father, we, the Church, want to protect these wounds. But together we want to hold on tenaciously to the joyful confidence of Easter: confidence in the humility of God in the poor and simple style of his Kingdom, with the patience of the grain of wheat.”
(To read the full speech of Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, click here).
This originally appeared at: http://ffhl.blogspot.com/