DEIR RAFAT - On Saturday, October 30, 2021, more than 3,000 people came to the Shrine of Deir Rafat to celebrate the anniversary of the consecration of the diocese and Palestine to Our Lady, Queen of Palestine, a solemnity instituted in 1928 by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Luigi Barlassina.
His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, presided over this celebration. Present at his side were Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo, Bishop Emeritus of the Latin Patriarchate, Fr. Nikodemus Schnabel, O.S.B. of the Vicariate of the Migrants and Asylum Seekers Fr. Piotr Zelasko of the Vicariate of Saint Jacques, Fr. Rafic Nahra, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel in Nazareth, as well as Fr. David Neuhaus, in charge of the Synod for the entire diocese of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, but also Msgr. Tomasz Grysa and Fr. Natale Albino, Counselors of the Apostolic Nunciature in Jerusalem, as well as other priests or Religious Men and Women. Also concelebrating are the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land the Maronite Archbishop Moussa El Hage, the Syriac Catholic Bishop Yacoub Semaan, the Melkite Bishop of Jerusalem, Yasser Ayyash as well as the Greek Melkite Archbishop Youssef Matta.
Representing specific communities, all coming from different backgrounds, each in a preferred language, was invited to participate in the liturgy, showing the Mother Church of Jerusalem in its diversity but also in its universality, united by fraternal friendship.
Among the assembly, mainly composed of Palestinian families from the parishes of Galilee, Jerusalem, but also from the Occupied Territories, in particular the dynamic parishes of Ramallah and its region, there were also many religious, seminarians, schoolchildren in uniform, a few expatriate families as well as Israelis, friends of the community of the Sisters of Bethlehem, in charge of the shrine since 2009 which welcomed us all this Saturday.
Joy of the reunion
As the conditions for entry into Israel were not eased until November 1, the Dames and Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, usually numerous to join the inhabitants of the Holy Land for this feast, could not be so many in Deir Rafat than in previous years. Thanked by the Patriarch for their constant support for the Holy Land, they were carried in prayer by all the faithful, and an intention was specially dedicated to them during the Universal Prayer.
Among all these people, religious and laypeople alike, the joy of the reunion was palpable, while in Israel and the West Bank, for long months, strict confinement prohibited most celebrations. Last year, no Palestinian from the West Bank was able to reach Deir Rafat, located about twenty kilometers west of Jerusalem and only a hundred people surrounded Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo for this solemnity.
In his homily, Patriarch Pizzaballa invited the faithful and members of the Church of the diocese to begin the synodal journey requested by Pope Francis, following the model of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, a place elsewhere very close to Deir Rafat.
If the people questioned were not all aware of the opening of the synod, and even less of its purpose, many of them have expressed interest in this event at the instigation of the Holy Father and are ready to join discussion groups and activities that their community or parish will soon set up in this context.