DEIR RAFAT – On October 22, 2016, the Catholics who live in the Hebrew speaking Jewish milieu in Israel came together for a special celebration and to welcome Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

It is a tradition for the Hebrew speaking Catholic communities in Israel to come together to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This year close to 500 people gathered in the shrine of Our Lady of Palestine in Deir Rafat, near Beit Shemesh. There were representatives from all the seven Hebrew speaking parish communities as well as representatives from the migrant worker and asylum seeker communities in Israel. This presented a first opportunity to welcome Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The archbishop, who speaks fluent Hebrew, celebrated the mass and preached in Hebrew.

The solemn and joyful liturgy had special readings for Sukkot. In his homily, the Archbishop reminded the faithful that the Feast of Tabernacles includes special prayers for rain and that water is an essential part of our lives. God has created us with a thirst for water. Jesus uses the image of water in order to make us aware of our thirst for God and he comes to us as living water, to quench our thirst. After the homily, the liturgy continued including special prayers for the Church and the new Archbishop, peace in the region, the Jewish people at this time of Sukkot, the Christians who are suffering in the surrounding countries and at home, migrants and asylum seekers and for the sick.

At the time of the offertory procession, two young girls brought two baskets filled with pomegranates, a symbol of the ingathering of the crops, which Sukkot celebrates, and also a symbol of the blessings for the new year.

At the end of mass, Father David, responsible for the Catholics in Hebrew speaking, Israeli society, welcomed the Archbishop and invited him to come often to these communities that were once his home, as priest responsible for the Jerusalem kehilla from 1998 to 2004 and as Latin Patriarchal Vicar for the Hebrew speaking Catholics in Israel from 2005 to 2008. The Archbishop then gave the solemn blessing, wishing everyone a happy feast.

The liturgy was animated by a beautiful group of musicians from the kehillot in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tiberias. After lunch and a time to meet the Archbishop, made especially sweeter by the preparation of an enormous cake prepared by Ibrahim and Paula from the Tiberias kehilla, the musicians continued to animate the day. One group met with the musicians in the church to learn religious songs that were sung together from various traditions. Another group were welcomed by the youth who presented to them the trip to Poland for the World Youth Day, last summer.

The day ended with a concert of Benny, seminarian in the Vicariate, who presented eight songs he has written and put to music over the past few years. The day ended with a sense of deep gratitude for the many gifts received!

Source: St. James Vicariate

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