PRESS RELEASE BY THE CUSTODY OF THE HOLY LAND
On Saturday, March 29, 1997 at 3.15pm the Custos of the Holy Land, His Paternity, the Most Reverend Fr. Giuseppe Nazzaro, OFM, arrived at the checkpoint in Bethlehem and was asked for his passport. Not having his diplomatic passport on him, he then presented them an Israeli VIP card issued to him by the Israeli government. The soldiers then discussed whether the Custos could enter Bethlehem and if he is a diplomat or not. One of them approached the Custos and said that they do not recognize the validity of the Israeli card. At this point they told the Custos that if he wished to enter Bethlehem he would have to return to Jerusalem and bring the original diplomatic passport back to the checkpoint as proof of his status.
The Custos is the Superior of the Franciscan Friars in Israel, and all the other countries of the Middle East and Greece, and has the right to enter into these places under his jurisdiction. This was the first time that his status was not recognized and accepted.
Behind the Custos, in another car were two Franciscan Friars from Bethlehem and they too were not permitted to enter. A third car with yellow plates (Israeli) was allowed to enter with no problem. Fr. Giuseppe Nazzaro then told the soldier, "You have just committed an act of discrimination by allowing this Israeli car to enter and refusing to let us the Franciscans to enter Bethlehem - our home." At 3.25pm after the discussion with the soldier Fr. Nazzaro returned to Jerusalem to get his Diplomatic Passport - and arrived back at 3.55pm. At this time the soldiers allowed him to enter.
Living in this so called "democratic State of Israel", it is difficult to understand why an Israeli VIP card does not entitle the bearer to move about as a full citizen. If the VIP card will not protect the Custos from stoning, how then will the diplomatic passport protect him?
Fr. Nazzaro was also told that only diplomats could enter and depart from Bethlehem. Why was then this Israeli car (non-diplomatic) permitted to enter?
"In this land of constant antagonism between the Jews and the Arabs, the Jews and Christians and Moslems, at a critical time of the Peace process, when diplomats are being discriminated against, how can the common man and woman feel when they are not allowed to work - hence feed their families?"
With today's solemn celebration at the Sanctuary of Emmaus came to an end the Easter celebrations and the conclusion of the Holy Week in Jerusalem. Today, the Franciscan Custos, accompanied by the Friars, pilgrims and Christian Arabs celebrated at the Sanctuary of Emmaus the memory of Jesus' meeting with his two disciples after his resurrection as recorded in the Gospels. At the end of this celebration, as is customary, small bread loaves specially prepared for this celebration, were distributed to all those present. Many local Christians preserve this bread to eat it only on special occasions during the year.
Notwithstanding the closure of the "Territories", thus the impossibility of the Christians living there to participate in the liturgical celebrations with the Mother Church of Jerusalem, the pilgrims came in abundance especially for Good Friday and Easter Saturday. On on Palm Sunday, due to the rainy whether, only a limited number of pilgrims and local Christians participated in the procession from Bethfage on Mount of Olives to the Sanctuary of St. Anne just within the City Walls. People from all corners of the world participated in the morning celebration of Maundy Thursday in the Holy Sepulchre and in the prayers with the Franciscans at the Cenacle in the afternoon. On Good Friday morning the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre was almost full and the courtyard outside the door of the basilica was full. Even for the Way of the Cross on Friday afternoon, the city streets were congested with people making it very hard for the Way of the Cross to proceed speedily. All this contributed to enlighten the spirit of Jerusalem into a festive mood even if the "Territories" remained a time bombs ready to explode.
It is worth mentioning that during this year's liturgical celebrations at the Holy Sepulchre, the liturgies have been adjourned (with the approval of the Sacred Congregation for the Liturgy). This is the first time that this was done after Vatican Council II. Up to last year at the Holy Sepulchre the liturgies were still those of the rite of 1955. All this was due to the rigid "time sharing" by the communites of the Holy Sepulchre as established in the Status Quo. This year in fact all the Liturgies of the Hour, that of Maundy Thursday morning and the Good Friday liturgy have been adapted for the needs of the Holy Sepulchre. In this adaptation the liturgy of Holy Sepulchre of the IVth century, as described by Egeria, was a basic inspiration. All participants have expressed their enthusiasm for this long-awaited move in the right direction!
"Dic nobis Maria, / quid vidisti in via? ..."
"Tell us, Mary: say what you saw on the way".
"The tomb the Living did enclose; the angels there attesting; shroud with burial clothes resting." The Resurrection of Christ is confirmed by the witnesses, by those who at first light on the day after the Sabbath, today, went to the tomb. First the women, and after them the Apostles. The ancient liturgical Sequence addresses Mary Magdalen because it was granted to her not only to discover the tomb empty but also to announce the event to the Apostles. Peter and John ran to the tomb and found that what the women were saying was true.
Proclaim with us that Christ is the hope also of those who see life and the future threatened by war and hatred, especially in the heart of Africa. May the light of Christ guide the leaders of the Nations, called to direct by their decisions harmonious living between different peoples, cultures and religions, as in the Holy Land. May the power of the Risen Christ sustain those who work to strengthen peace and democracy, often obtained at the cost of great sacrifice, as in the Balkans, and especially in beloved Albania. May the love of Christ, victorious over sin and death, grant everyone the courage of forgiveness and reconciliation, without which there can be no solutions worthy of man: our thoughts go in a special way to the people who for months have been held hostage in Lima, Peru. May they finally gain the freedom they ardently long for!
May all our brothers and sisters in the faith who, in different parts of the world, are victims of restriction or persecution be enabled to share in the joy of Easter. They are unable, alas, to celebrate this feast of the Redemption as they would wish. Let them not give in to discouragement, let them not feel abandoned! Christ is with them, the Church is with them! Christ is truly risen! In him, today, we can overcome the forces of evil. He offers everyone a new life; thanks to him, from this moment on, each one of us can turn in love to our brothers and sisters in openness, in service, in forgiveness. Yes, in the Risen Jesus, everything gains new meaning and value.
"Scimus Christum / surrexisse a mortuis vere."
"That Christ is truly risen from the dead we know." The witness of the women and of the Apostles, the witness of the Church, reaches not only Jerusalem and the hills of Galilee. It spreads to every corner of the world. At the end of the Second Millennium, as the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 draws near, this witness now re-echoes everywhere: Christ is risen! "Scimus Christum / surrexisse a mortuis vere!" We believe because we know: scimus. And from the depths of this sublime knowledge, where the word of God and human reason meet, we invoke:
You, Christ Crucified and Risen - "Tu nobis, victor Rex, miserere!"
Amen, Alleluia! Easter Sunday, 30 March 1997