To the Sheperds’ Field with Fr. Josè Maria
“We live in the hands of Providence”, with these words Father José Maria Falo Espés starts telling us about his life experience as the Guardian of the Franciscan shrine of the Sheperds’ Field in Beit Sahur.
Fr. José is Spanish, from Saragoza, and has lived for a long time in Valencia from where he brought groups of pilgrims to the Holy Land. In one of his journeys to the Holy Land, he tells us: “I realized that something deeper had always attracted me to the Places of Jesus”. Therefore he became a Franciscan Friar of the Custody of the Holy Land.
“This place is a very significant place. Right Here the Amgels brought the first announcement of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God” Fr. José explains. “On these hills the Angels were singing ‘Glory to God in the Highest’. Thousands of pilgrims come here every year and every day I am here to welcome them”.
Speaking of the historical and biblical importance of the place, the Franciscan adds: “There is a very ancient tradition linked to this area and to the humble origins of Jesus. It almost seems that everything has started here.” Then, he points out to the hills and explains: “In the place where you see those houses, there were the fields of Booz, the husband of Rut. And here David probabily grazed his flock when he was called by Samuel to reign over Israel! It really is a great concentration of events! “.
About his daily life, the Father tells us: “I have been here for two years now, to welcome pilgrims. This experience is really helpful for me because I meet people of every kind. I must also say that I really live as a true Franciscan over here, immersed in nature. For example, in the tranquility of summer evenings when the sanctuary closes, I look up at the stars and think about those shepherds 2000 years ago”.
Josè Maria also tells us that there is a plan to restore the beautiful little church by Antonio Barluzzi, which recalls the shepherds’ tent toghether with a plan to upgrade the archeological site with the aid of the Association pro Terra Sancta.
Then he starts to tell us about the Christian community of Beit Sahour. José explains that more than 80% of the population is Christian and this is now a great exception for the Holy Land. On Sundays, for example, all shops are closed. Yet the local Christian community needs support, that is not just material support. Due to the political and social situation, there is a strong psychological discomfort”.
We ask him to tell us something about Christmas in the places of Jesus’ life. Josè replies: “it is a great time of great celebrations and faith. It is an ecumenical moment for all. Last year between 24 and 25 December, we celebrated 93 masses for Catholics and 95 for Protestants! And there are many Muslims in Bethlehem who celebrate with Christian brothers, as well!”
“I feel that our service is a great contribution. Over the centuries, Spain, the place where I come from, has given much to the Holy Land, but today vocations are low. That is why I think our presence is really important. As Father Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land recently wished, we are here to be ‘both angels and sheperds’”.