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Franciscan Friary,
St. Francis Str. 1,



Date: 05.01.2005
Source: Custody of the Holy Land

Bethlehem, 5th January 2005.

Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custos of the Holy Land, inaugurated the feast of the Epiphany during a solemn entrance into Bethelem. He came from the Franciscan friary of Saint Saviour in Jerusalem.
At 10.30 a.m. the Father Custos, accompanied by the Custodial Vicar, Father Artemio Vítores, the Discreets of the Holy Land Custody and a good representation of the parish of Saint Saviour, entered Bethlehem in a carcade. Before entering the town of Bethelem he was escorted by the Israeli police. The first stop was at the Orthodox monastery of Saint Elias. At that place the Father Custos received the greetings of the military Governor of the Bethlehem area, Mr. Aviv, and also those of the mayor of Beit Jala, Mr. Raji Zidan, and other personalities. From Saint Elias the carcade was escorted by cavalry police. Near Rachel’s Tomb there were waiting for the Custos the mayor of Beit Sahour, Mr. Fuad Kakaly, and the Lieutenant of the municipality of Bethlehem, Mr. Ziad El Bandak. After the initial greetings the carcade proceeded to the place where the Hotel Paradise is situated. From this point onwards the Israeli escort was substituted by the Palestinian escort, made up of cavalry police. The carcade entered Bethlehem through the inner roads, and the Custos received the welcome of the local population, until the cars stopped at the square in front of the Basilica of the Nativity. Here there were waiting for the Custos the Governor of Bethlehem, Mr. Zuheir Manasra, the Mayor of Bethlehem, Mr. Hanna Nasser, and the cadets of the Police and of the district of Bethlehem. There was also the parish priest, Father Amjad Sabbar, together with the friars of the community of Bethelehem and those who came over from Jerusalem. The various groups of Scouts were playing their percussion instruments in the cold wintry air. At 11.37 a.m. the arrival of the Custos was announced by sirens and with the drums of the Scouts. A sudden downpour was the reason for a hurried entrance of the Father Custos in the Basilica of the Nativity.

The Custos passed among two rows of friars and entered the cloister of Saint Jerome, where he was received by the Guardian of the Bethlehem friary, Father Justo Artaraz, according to the usual custom. From this place the Custos entered in procession to the church of Saint Catherine, in order to celebrate the First Vespers of the solemnity. The celebration of Vespers was presided by the Father Custos accompanied by the Discreets of the Holy Land, the friars of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, other religious and faithful. During the singing of the Magnificat he went down in procession to the Nativity Grotto to incense the holy place of the Star, the Crib and the altar of the Magi. Then he returned the same way into the church of Saint Catherine, where he concluded the celebration of Vespers.
At 3.30 p.m. the Guardian of the Franciscan friary presided over the singing of Compline. At the moment of the Gospel Canticle he went in procession to the Nativity Grotto in order to incense the same holy places which the Father Custos had venerated earlier on.
Outside it was raining, but the Father Custos took the occasion of his stay in Bethlehem to go and visit the various institutions related to the Custody of the Holy Land: the Scouts, the Franciscan Sisters of the Caritas Baby Hospital, the Antonian Association, the home for elderly persons, the Catholic Action, the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition, who direct the femmine Terra Santa College, as well as the Daughters of Saint Mary of Hortus Conclusus. The Custos finally saluted the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart who serve the Franciscan faternity and sanctuary of the Custody at Bethlehem. The Father Custos encouraged each and every one of these associations in its apostolic and social work, and as is the custom during the feast of the Three Kings, he left an appropriate gift to each community or organization.


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