Pope Francis returns part of relic of Jesus’ crib to Holy Land

Franciscan Father Rami Asakrieh holds a reliquary containing what is believed to be a small fragment of Jesus' crib Dec. 1, 2019, in the Franciscan Church of St. Catherine, which is adjacent to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. Pope Francis gave the relic fragment to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees the main churches and shrines associated with the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As Advent approached, Pope Francis gave a small fragment of Jesus' crib back to Catholics in the Holy Land.

In Bethlehem, West Bank, Franciscan Father Rami Asakrieh of St. Catherine Church welcomed the relic's return and called it "a great blessing."

Advertisement

"This is more blessings for this place," he said. "You can't imagine the great joy to have this blessing."

On Nov. 22, experts from the Vatican Museums extracted a small fragment from the relic of what has been venerated as Jesus' manger. The relic, given to the Vatican in the seventh century, has been kept in a chapel under the basilica's main altar.

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

Pope Francis gave the relic fragment to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees the main churches and shrines associated with the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The relic arrived in Jerusalem Nov. 29 and was present during a Mass celebrated by the nuncio, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, in the chapel of Our Lady of Peace at the Notre Dame Center.

After the Mass and time for people to venerate the relic, the Franciscan friars carried it in procession to the Church of St. Saviour, where they recited vespers. The relic was transferred to Bethlehem Nov. 30 to be in place for beginning of Advent Dec. 1

"May the return to Bethlehem of this piece of holy wood arouse in us the profound desire to be bearers of God. Now it is our hearts that are a manger: the holy crib of God made man," said Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, apostolic nuncio to Israel and Cyprus and apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, at the handing-over ceremony to the Franciscan friars at Jerusalem's Notre Dame Center.

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

Reading a letter sent by Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Archbishop Girelli said, "Pope Francis accompanies this gift with his blessing and with the fervid wish that the veneration of this illustrious relic can open the hearts of many men and women, adults and youngsters, the elderly and children, to receive with a renewed fervor of faith and love the mystery that changed the course of history. The Holy Father wishes, in particular, that the message of peace announced by the angels on the night of Christmas to the men loved by God, which for 2,000 years has rung out from Bethlehem, brings the gift of peace and reconciliation which our world needs more and more."

Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, said the relic would be used to "rekindle faith in Jesus between the different Christian communities of the Holy Land."

Local Catholics in Bethlehem had the opportunity to venerate the relic at Mass at St. Catherine's Dec. 1 before the relic was put away until a proper location and protocol for it can be arranged.

Meanwhile, as Christmas approached, the opening hours of the Church of the Nativity adjacent to St. Catherine had been extended by three hours to 8 p.m. to accommodate the influx of pilgrims who sometimes had to wait up to four hours to go down to the grotto where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was born.

On the first day of Advent, the wait was only about one hour.

"We are going to wait as long as it takes to go in," said David Williams, 67, of Texas as he waited in line with his tour group and a local guide. "It is very exciting. This is what you read, and when you read it again after having been here there will be new insight."

Local guide Jaber Saadeh, said that as a Christian he was happy to see the large number of pilgrims coming to Bethlehem.

"I feel so proud and happy to welcome them. We are a peaceful country," he said.

Coming out from the grotto, Claudia Haita, 44, of Romania, said the wait had not been an issue. Having the opportunity to visit the grotto and say a prayer there had been "good for my soul as a Christian" and strengthened her faith, she said.

Another pilgrim who identified herself only as Maria said she had been overwhelmed by the experience.

"I had an overwhelming feeling of tears of joy but also a feeling of sadness because of the hurting of humanity, of the suffering. It is time to let that go," she said.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of Pope Francis.]

Advertisement

The latest from america

The story of Catholics and the AIDS epidemic in the United States is often told as one of “gays versus the church.” But the reality was much more complicated.
JesuiticalDecember 06, 2019
Join us as we offer daily scripture reflections for the entire Advent season.
Elizabeth Kirkland CahillDecember 06, 2019
“As a Catholic, I resent your using the word 'hate' in a sentence that addresses me,” she said. “I don’t hate anyone.”
Thomas J. ReeseDecember 05, 2019
Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa Abascal (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 
Father Sosa said the Society of Jesus will also seek to respond to “the concrete requests of Pope Francis” in support of his work for the renewal of the church and its structures.
Gerard O’ConnellDecember 05, 2019