By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service
JERUSALEM (CNS) — Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said being unable to attend Mass in a community has made people realize how much they miss “celebrating the love that conquers every death.”
Celebrating the Easter morning Mass in the co-cathedral of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the archbishop emphasized the importance of praying together as a family during the COVID-19 pandemic. The last time the Church of the Holy Sepulcher — which was closed to the public because of the coronavirus beginning March 25 — was locked and closed to prayer for an extended period was in 1349, during the bubonic plague epidemic, known as the Black Death.
“Many centuries ago (the churches were closed), so the Christians sang and prayed in the family. Now … we are in a similar situation, with the churches closed, but I hope and want that at least now we can pray in the family as before,” said Archbishop Pizzaballa. “Jesus said: Where two or three people are united in my name I am there. We (normally) go to church to meet Jesus, but if in families we pray, Jesus is there.”
The archbishop celebrated Mass April 12 in Arabic for the local Christian population. The Mass was broadcast and livestreamed to the community on Palestinian television and various social media platforms and websites, and only a handful of other clergy were allowed in the co-cathedral because of emergency COVID-19 precautions.
Before starting the celebration, Archbishop Pizzaballa greeted those few present and those watching. He said that, despite the inability to celebrate together, the joy of Easter should be pronounced.
He shared with them his sadness of praying alone earlier in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where he normally would have been accompanied by the many local faithful and pilgrims who come to celebrate Easter at the church traditionally believed to be located on the spot where Jesus was crucified, laid out for burial, buried and rose from the dead.
“It was a little bit sad because (the church) was empty. But I brought in my heart all the demands and hopes of the people, and when I got to Calvary, in my heart were all the people of our parishes, and when I got to the empty tomb (of Jesus) yesterday, I brought all the hopes and demands of our people,” he said, as in the background church bells pealed. “I brought the demands of Jordanians, of the Israelis and especially of the Palestinians who are suffering, and of all Christian people who belong to our church here.”
In his homily, Archbishop Pizzaballa noted the inability to celebrate the triduum, in the current context of fear and uncertainty, has made people even more aware of their fragility and limitations.
“We have found that our human ingenuity, however acute and developed, does not guarantee salvation,” he said. “The big questions about life and death, about who we are, arose again in our hearts. We understood that the word salvation is not only linked to the ability of science to solve the great problems of the moment (something we are all eager and grateful for anyway,) but it is connected first of all with the mystery that dwells in human nature, and that we cannot manage to possess completely. That’s why the impossibility to celebrate the mysteries of salvation during this week seemed still more difficult.”
Signs of Jesus’ presence can be found everywhere, if one searches for them, he said.
In their Easter message, the patriarchs and heads of churches of the Holy Land noted that in the midst of the death and suffering, the celebration of the resurrection is an assurance of God’s presence and Jesus’ victory over death.
“The Resurrection calls upon our human family toward a time of renewal and a way forward into the future, away from oppression, discrimination, hunger and injustice,” they said in the April 10 message. “Our present responsibility as people of faith and goodwill is to offer consolation for those who grieve, restoration and healing to those who are sick, and assistance to those who are in need. … Our mission as Christians and as human beings is to support each other and to continue to pray for all people during this pandemic.”