On Saturday, October 14, 2017, the members of the different kehillot in Israel gathered at the shrine of Our Lady Queen of Palestine in Deir Rafat to celebrate together the beginning of the Great Advent, to thank Father David for his years of service and to welcome Father Rafic as the new priest in charge of the Saint James Vicariate.

advent kehilla 1

More than three hundred representatives of the different Hebrew speaking Catholic communities in Israel gathered at the shrine in Deir Rafat for the bi-annual day of the kehillot. As always, as the buses and cars arrived, friends greeted each other, the children rushed off to play together and the young people huddled to share news and bring each other up to date. This year, three big events coincided, making this day an important one in the life of the Hebrew speaking Catholics in Israel. Firstly, for the first time all the kehillot gathered to celebrate together the beginning of the Great Advent (for an explanation of the Great Advent see here). Secondly, the members of the kehillot came to thank Father David for the twelve years that he has been their pastor, three years as secretary-general of the Vicariate and nine years as the Patriarchal Vicar. Thirdly, they came to welcome Father Rafic, who is the new priest in charge of the Saint James Vicariate.

At 11.00, everyone gathered in the church where a solemn mass was celebrated. Father David was the main celebrant and Father Rafic delivered the homily. At the beginning of the mass, Father David asked the congregation to pray for Father Rafic and his new mission. This mass marked the first Sunday of Great Advent, underlining the creation of Adam and Eve. The choir was directed by seminarian Benedetto and accompanied the mass with magnificent singing. Two Salesian deacons assisted and all the priests of the Saint James Vicariate concelebrated as well as a number of guest priests. The youth from the Desert Flower group prepared and read the prayers of the faithful. It was a wonderful celebration at the end of which Father Rafic thanked Father David for his faithful service.

After the mass, all present gathered in the courtyard where they raised a toast to the new year. Ibrahim and Paula from the Tiberias kehillah had prepared a huge, magnificent cake as a sign of gratitude for Father David’s work. Before cutting the cake, Ibrahim sang a song he had composed in Hebrew but sung in traditional Arab style:

Many thanks to Father David, we love you always,
We want to see you as Patriarch in the future!
Father Rafic replaces you, the one has been a friend to you,
With the help of God, his success, to that I testify!
With your priesthood you represent a success
greater than the government of Netanyahu and Lapid,
And Father Rafic, welcome, welcome,
On our way we have found a companion (rafiq in Arabic)!

Father David and Father Rafic then cut the cake together with a ceremonial sword, leaving the slicing up into hundreds of pieces to Ibrahim who served the waiting masses of children and adults. A sumptuous picnic followed and the variety of delicacies was shared by all – Eritrean and Ethiopian dishes were mixed with Filipino and Eastern European foods alongside more traditional Israel and Arab fare… and of course, lots of barbecue too.

In the afternoon, the adults divided into groups to discuss the experience of Advent in their lives and to share their reactions to the practice of Great Advent in the Hebrew speaking communities.

At the end of the day, everyone gathered again in the church for a final prayer. The prayer, animated by Father Roman, evoked the full cycle of eleven weeks that this year constitute the Great Advent. Each week is represented by figures in the history of salvation: Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, the great women, Moses, David, the prophets, John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph…

Then came the time for farewells and the promise that there will be more occasions to meet again in the future!

advent kehilla 2advent kehilla 3