By Marinella Bandini
“May the Lord give you peace,” the Franciscan words of the greeting, resounded several times in the celebrations of the end of the year and the beginning of the year in the Holy Land.
The words were echoed in the wishes of Christians, who inaugurated the new civil year on Jan. 1 (while Jews and Muslims celebrate the new year on different dates).
This greeting “says a great truth, that peace comes from Him, from the Lord Jesus,” emphasized Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, in the Mass celebrated on Jan. 1, the solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and the 57th World Day of Peace.
The Mass was celebrated in the church of the Latin Patriarchate, the Pro-Cathedral of Jerusalem. Joining Pizzaballa among the concelebrants was Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, who is currently on a solidarity visit to the Holy Land together with the Order’s Governor General, Leonardo Visconti di Modrone.
In his homily, the patriarch spoke about the “courage” and “madness” of peace: “Jesus did not solve any of the social and political problems of his time, but he did reveal a way, which is still the way forward for those who want to build contexts of peace, even here, today, in the troubled and conflict-ridden Middle East: encounter.”
The patriarch challenged Christians of the Holy Land to “make a difference.”
“I am more and more convinced that in this complex context, the main vocation and mission of the small Christian community is precisely this: to cherish the desire for encounter, to cultivate freedom in relation to all, to overcome ethnic, religious, and identity boundaries. It is my dream, and it is the madness that I would like to share with all this small and beloved church in Jerusalem,” Pizzaballa said.
The words that St. Francis embraced as a greeting are found in the Old Testament: “The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Numbers 6:26).
Father Francesco Patton, who serves as the Custos of the Holy Land, commented to the journalists present at the Mass: “The face of God shining upon us is the face of Jesus. From the Holy Land, we must continue to present the face of Jesus: the Holy Places are the historical testimony of the face of Jesus, and being Christians of the Holy Land means invoking the face of Jesus.”
The plea for peace was heard at the recent year-end celebrations as well. On Dec. 31, in Nazareth, the Holy Family was solemnly celebrated. It is precisely here that, after returning from Egypt, St. Joseph established the dwelling place for his family.
The Custos of the Holy Land, who presided over the Mass, called for prayers for families suffering from war and for all families, so that they may not lose hope and courage in the face of daily challenges.
A young couple expecting their first child processed with an icon of the Holy Family to the place tradition indicates as the house where Jesus grew up with Joseph and Mary, “and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51), just a few tens of meters from the Basilica of the Annunciation.
The desire for peace also resonated in the evening Te Deum at the Church of St. Saviour, in Jerusalem. Cardinal Pizzaballa and Cardinal Filoni joined the prayer of the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land. Before the Blessed Sacrament, exposed throughout Vespers, hymns of praise echoed along with the prayer that “God may grant peace to all.”