AN ANCIENT TRADITION. For centuries, September 8 has been celebrated as the day when the home of Sts. Joachim and Anna gets filled with the faithful. In fact, tradition places the feast of the Nativity of Mary, celebrated in Jerusalem at the church of St. Anne, where the apocryphal gospels say the Virgin’s parents lived. For the Custody of the Holy Land, the celebration of the Nativity of Mary is an inevitable recurrence that has always been maintained over the years, even when Christian worship was not allowed there. Constructed by the Crusaders, the church had survived successive eras because the conqueror of Jerusalem, Saladin, used it as a curonian school of the Shafi’i school. “Even when the Basilica was in the hands of Muslims and was not a place of worship, the friars went through a small window and prayed the liturgy while hiding under the altar, where today’s current crypt is located,” explained Stephen Milovitch, who came together with other friars of the Custody to celebrate the feast. Based on the excavations carried out in the area, it also appears that there were several pools for ritual washing, including the Probatica (also called Betzata, Bethesda or Bethsaida), where the Gospel tale of the healing of a paralytic took place (John 5: 2-18).
ST. ANNE AND FRANCE. From the St. Savior’s Monastery, with the Kawas leading the procession, the Franciscans arrived at the church of St. Anne just before 9 a.m., in time to enter the procession along with the religious from the local congregation. The order of the Missionaries of Africa has been guarding the place since the second half of the nineteenth century, when the Emperor of France, Napoleon III, received the restitution of the building for the Christians in exchange for the aid given to the Sultan during the Crimean War (1854-56).
The Church and the monastery are thus a protected area for France today and therefore the mass was celebrated in French. The Missionary Fathers of Africa , also known as White Fathers, because of their habit, sat among the people and on the altar, along with the French community from Jerusalem, as well as with Franciscan friars, pilgrims and locals.
The Consul General of France, Pierre Cochard, who as usual attends many liturgies connected to France, was in the front row. The readings and the Gospel of Jesus’ genealogy were proclaimed in French.
THE MASS AND JOY. Fr. Stephane Milovitch presided over the mass while the homily was given by Fr. Teofilo. “The birth of Mary is a sign that God has prepared salvation for us. The birth of Mary is a sign that God loves us. We ask God to help us grow in peace and in love,” said the Franciscan. Finally, there was a refreshment to conclude the celebration with a moment of fraternal communion.
One of the White Fathers, Trèsor, explained how special this solemnity is: “I am a seminarian and I come from Congo. Today’s feast is truly a great celebration for us Missionaries of Africa.” Fr. Giò, the head of the religious community, explained that “the two important feasts for the church of St. Anne are today and that of December 8.” The Father of the Missionaries of Africa, who is from Switzerland, also explained something about the community: “Our congregation here is composed of 20 people, including 10 priests and 10 seminarians. Among those who are consecrated, 15 different African nationalities are represented. “Celebrating Mary’s Nativity here is not like doing so in Rome or somewhere else. We are in a holy place, and for that reason, being here today is something that strikes me and excites me,” said Fr. Giò.