As the Holy Land prepares for the visit of Pope Francis, Catholic seminarians are praying for the visit's success and preparing with great anticipation to assist in a papal Mass.
“Everywhere, in the Holy Land, people are praying for Pope Francis,” Joseph Sweiss, a Catholic seminarian from the area of Amman, Jordan, told Aid to the Church in Need.
“We are so greatly looking forward to welcoming him. We Christians are only a small minority here in the Holy Land. Hence it is important to know that the Pope is thinking of us.”
Pope Francis will visit the Holy Land and Jordan May 24-26. He will celebrate Sunday Mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square on May 25.
Sweiss, a seminary student at Beit Jala near Bethlehem, said that Pope Francis is “a real model of the priesthood” and “gives the example of a good shepherd.”
“He will teach us how to live in respect and peace with others, how to be the salt of the earth."
Salam Haddad, another Jordanian seminarian in his third year of theology studies for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said that the Pope is “greatly loved” in the Holy Land.
“I am looking forward to the privilege of soon being close to him as an altar server,” Haddad said. “One cannot not be thrilled at the prospect of meeting him and serving with him at the altar. This is a blessing, especially with this Pope whom the whole world admires.”
At the urging of Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem, the Beit Jala seminarians have spent several months praying the Rosary for the success of Pope Francis’ visit.
Haddad and eleven other students at the seminary will be altar servers during Pope Francis' Mass in Bethlehem.
Latin Patriarchate auxiliary bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, the vicar general and representative of the Latin Patriarch in Israel, was himself a seminarian during Pope Paul VI's eventful 1964 Holy Land visit.
The Italian-born bishop, a Nazareth resident, told Aid to the Church In Need that Paul VI's visit to Jerusalem came on “a bitterly cold January day” with “icy” wind.
“But that didn't bother us in the least, since we were so full of joyful anticipation,” said Bishop Marcuzzo, who was tasked with carrying the processional cross through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the papal visit 50 years ago.
“Jerusalem had been waiting for three hours for the arrival of the Pope. It was already growing dark, and Pope Paul VI was considerably delayed. We waited for him at the Damascus Gate,” the bishop recounted.
“Eventually, he arrived. The jubilation was really indescribable. Everybody, regardless of whether they were Christian or Muslim, rejoiced immensely at his arrival.”
While the police had prepared for an orderly procession, that did not happen.
“Suddenly, chaos broke out. But not from ill will, but from joy. Everybody wanted to see the Pope and touch him. The planned, orderly procession fell apart. I was walking ahead, but at some point I turned round to see where the Pope was,” he said, telling of the complete confusion that resulted.
Cardinals were completely overwhelmed with the density of the crowds and the Pope was “literally being suffocated by the mass of people.”
The Pope was taken to the nearby convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor to recover for at least 45 minutes before resuming the trek to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where he celebrated Mass.
Bishop Marcuzzo said Paul VI’s celebration of Mass made him realize he was “a man of faith and prayer.”
“He appeared quite unconcerned by all the turmoil around him. The most important thing was the encounter with Jesus,” the bishop said, adding that the experience still influences him today.