Easter Monday at Emmaus

Giacomo Pizzi21 May 2011


Emmaus El Qubeibe, a day after Easter …

Many Christians gathered here at the Franciscan church in the village which a tradition claims was that towards which two disciples were walking, shattered by the tragic events in Jerusalem.   From a terrace in the garden, the eyes and minds of friars turn a specific page of a gospel, and it becomes easy to imagine Jesus approaching the two as they were on their way here. Jesus, an apparent stranger who, having explained the scriptures concerning himself, reveals himself to the disciples in the breaking of bread.

This is why the Custos of the Holy Land, Friar Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who presided at the celebrations, distributed blessed bread to the faithful … symbolizing, in a way, this sanctuary, but also the disciples’ encounter with the Risen Christ.



Custos of the Holy Land

Celebrating at Emmaus today teaches us something important: that all of us, in studying the scriptures, and in having experienced Easter, are like the two disciples from Emmaus.  They met Jesus, and above all, recognized him in the breaking of bread… and this tells us today that, like thme, we have to leave our doubts, and come to the table to share our bread with the people we met along the way.



His Excellency Monsignor  ROBERT DEELEY

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

It’s been wonderful to celebrate Mass here because the disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread – and we have celebrated the Eucharist …

The story of the two disciples is the story of each one of us,” – said Friar Artemio Vitores, the Custodial Vicar – “The Lord sees our disappointment and our discouragement, and does not leave us to ourselves: he approaches us and shows us three ways in which to recognize him: through the Word of God, charity and the Eucharist.”

Although there are other places named Emmaus, also claiming identification with the village in the gospel, here the remains of a Roman road, and of Crusader buildings, as well as a biblical reference to a distance equivalent to eleven kilometers (the sixty stades mentoned by Luke), support the possible authenticity of this place.

This sanctuary has been a place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages.  Beneath the foundations of the present church, are the remains of a Crusader church as well as what is has been venerated as the house of Saint Cleophas and his son – that is to say the two disciples.

This year the church was packed with the faithful, who included many Spanish and Italian pilgrims.  But Easter Monday in Emmaus is an appointment especially dear to local Christians, particularly those from the Latin Parish of Jerusalem.

See how many Palestinian Christians are here for this special day, especially given the Israeli security measures, and the separation wall.  It was very difficult for our family to come.  We had to pass through Ramallah, cross the checkpoint, and make a long detour … It is very difficult … We continue to hope that peace comes to this Holy Land; that the wall falls, and that life returns to what is was before, ten to twenty years ago, when everything was open, and many local Christians and pilgrims could come here.


Indeed such a large presence here at the sanctuary of Emmaus this year is unusual.  In part because this Palestinian village is almost entirely Moslem: only one Christian family lives here today, but also because of the blocking of access routes as Israeli security measures, making it almost impossible to get here. In the last four months only four groups of pilgrims have come here, as special permission has had to be obtained for the few coaches that have arrived.

Acquired by the Franciscans in the 19th Century, it became the minor seminary of the Custody, receiving students from all Arab countries.  The seminary was closed in 1967, but was reopened in 1986, as Father Firas who was himself a seminarian here in the nineteen eighties, confirms.  Today, however, Emmaus is a place of isolation and loneliness.Yet in spite of all this, the gospel account of this shrine is kept alive through a Franciscan presence … “This, for me, is above all a place of prayer and meditation,” says Friar Franciszek Wiater, superior of the friary, who lives here with a fellow Franciscan.  “But certainly it would be better if we were able, more frequently, to share the mystery of this holy place with others.”