VATICAN CITY — As Advent approached, Pope Francis gave a small fragment of Jesus’ crib back to Catholics in the Holy Land.
In Bethelehem, West Bank, Franciscan Father Rami Asakrieh of St. Catherine Church welcomed the relic’s return and called it “a great blessing.”
“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.
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 at 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.
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.