On December 26, with the joy of Christmas still alive, the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land led the celebrations of the feast of St. Stephen in Jerusalem. The first mass for St. Stephen was celebrated, as per tradition, in the infirmary at St. Savior’s Monastery. There all of the friars of the monastery gathered to wish a Merry Christmas to their brothers in the infirmary, the nuns who serve others there, as well as the staff and the director, Br. Jad Sara. Also present were the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, and the Vicar of the Custody, Fr. Dobromir Jazstal.
“St. Stephen reminds us of three fundamental dimensions of our life: the dimension of service at the dining halls, the dimension of service to the word, the dimension of being witnesses to life,” said Fr. Patton in his homily. “Martyrdom, in fact, means ‘witness to life.’” The Custos affirmed that St. Stephen was the first martyr and the first called to offer service to the church, having also been the first deacon. “The witness of martyrdom reminds us that we give our strongest witness at the moment when our lives themselves are speaking: it is the way in which die speaking,” said Fr. Patton.
For the many friars of the Custody, of whom some are sick or very old, the mass in the infirmary and the moment of fraternal communion with a light refreshment represented a little bit of Christmas joy.
To make prayer alive in the holy places, as is the mission of the Franciscans in the Holy Land, at 4 p.m., they gathered in the Greek Orthodox Church in front of Gethsemane, under the Lions’ Gate. In the rock-floor chapel, the place where St. Stephen was stoned, in the presence of Saul of Tarsus, the future of St. Paul before conversion, was remembered.
During the Vespers in honor of this solemnity, the Christmas feast that was just celebrated was recalled in the initial hymn, the Adeste Fideles. Then, the biblical passage of [St. Stephen’s] martyrdom in the Acts of the Apostles was proclaimed, followed by the homily by Br. Ayman Bathesh. “We must take his example for his courageous preaching of God’s word, for his service to the poor and for his forgiving his persecutors,” said Fr. Ayman. At the place where he was stoned today there are flowers and candles to remember his sacrifice. In Br. Bethesh’s homily, he emphasized the need for forgiveness for those who do evil, following St. Stephen’s example.
After the celebration, on the opposite side of the street, panettone and cups of hot chocolate were served to those present at the Monastery of the Basilica of Gethsemane because fraternal joy can also be shared this way.