BEIT SAHOUR – On Saturday, December 28, 2019, a Thanksgiving Mass was celebrated at the Latin Church of Beit Sahour on the occasion of the 160th anniversary of the creation of “Our Lady of Fatima” parish. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, presided over the Mass.
When in 1847, after more than five centuries of forced “absence” of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Patriarchate was restored in the Holy City, the then young Patriarch Giuseppe Valerga found just a few parishes and pastoral structures to develop his diocese.
For centuries the Franciscan Custody represented the Catholic outpost in the Holy Land, a place where it preserved its presence and cared for the survival of the Latin community and pilgrimages, in a very complex and heterogeneous context. The restoration of the diocese pushed Patriarch Giuseppe Valerga to do his utmost towards the construction of new parish and pastoral realities.
The first thing that Valerga promoted was the establishment of a Patriarchal Seminary that would form an indigenous clergy. The Patriarch’s words, quoted from memory according to the tradition transmitted by the local community, were celebrated and prophetic in certain respects: “The Church of Jerusalem will have a future only if it can promote its qualified local clergy.”
Secondly, the newly installed Patriarch worked diligently on the establishment of new parishes, fundamental and indispensable centers to meet the needs of pastoral care. Among the very first parishes established was that of Beit Jala and, later, that of Beit Sahour in 1859. In 2019 therefore, this parish celebrated the 160th anniversary of its foundation.
The active Latin community of Beit Sahour led by new parish priest, Fr. Issa Hijazin, wanted to celebrate this anniversary with a series of festivities culminating in the Solemn Mass presided over by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
On the afternoon of Saturday, December 29, the Parish Scouts’ Band led the procession of religious and faithful in the heart of the city, from the Christ the King bookstore to the parish hall and then to the Church. The ceremony had three speakers; the mayor of Beit Sahour, Mr. Jihad Kheir; Mr. Jamil Jarayseh, who spoke on behalf of the Latin community and Walid Shomali, whose family, originally from the place, historically contributed much to the life of the parish and Patriarchate.
All then moved to the nearby parish church, where the religious services were held at the beginning of which the parish priest, Fr. Issa Hijazin, at this event, officially welcomed the Apostolic Administrator and all the participants, immediately giving thanks to the Lord. Being in the Christmas atmosphere and on the eve of Feast of the Holy Family, the homily of Archbishop Pizzaballa could only focus on this theme. The Apostolic Administrator spoke of a parish as a family. In these terms, the parish, like any real family, encounters happy and sad moments, favorable or unfavorable and, in this sense, the parish of Beit Sahour has always managed to remain faithful to its mission, to the diocese, to the Patriarchate.
Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, Bishop Kamal Bathish, Fr. Ibrahim Shomali, Chancellor of the Patriarchate, Fr. Elias Tabban, the former parish priest, Fr. Hanna Mass’ad, the parish priest of Beit Jala, Fr. Rafic Khoury of the Latin Patriarchate, Deacon Firas Abedrabbo, Fr. Issa Shomali, two Korean religious, Fr. Kahn and Fr. Lee from the “Clerical Society of the Holy Trinity” of Mirinae who serve in the parish. In addition to many parishioners, the Sisters of the Rosary were present, who have been in this parish since its foundation.
The Shepherds Choir led by Maestro George Salsa contributed Liturgical chant during the Mass.
At the end of the ceremony, the community recessed to the parish hall where traditional greetings and congratulations were exchanged and where all shared a jubilee dinner.
In the same parish hall, there was a photographic exhibition that retraced the essential historical stages of the parish of Beit Sahour from 1859 to today.
Filippo De Grazia