Italian President Sergio Mattarella visited Israel and the Holy Places, for the first time since he became Head of State. On the morning of October 31, he went to the Holy Sepulcher with his daughter, surrounded by numerous bodyguards and his staff. The President’s visit began with a stop in front of the Stone of Anointing. Guided by Fr. Eugenio Alliatas, the archaeologist of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, the group then continued toward the Edicule of the Holy Sepulcher, which had been closed up until a few days ago due to construction work. The visits that followed were Jesus’ Tomb, the Catholicon and the Chapel of the Crucifixion. At the conclusion of the visit, Sergio Mattarella was greeted on his way out by a spontaneous choir of Italians who sang the national anthem, as a way of celebrating their President.
On the other hand, November 1 was dedicated to visiting Bethlehem. Mattarella was met outside of the Church of the Nativity by the religious authorities and the Mayor of Bethlehem. After a short visit to the Basilica, the President of the Italian Republic and the Italian delegation descended to the grotto to attend a mass celebrated by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton. In his homily, the Custos spoke about the Feast of All Saints and about hardships in Italy and the world, remembering the earthquake victims, as well as the victims of the economic crisis and wars. Right in the Messiah’s birthplace, the Custos said that Jesus, making himself a child, taught us that we should not be afraid of him. After the mass, a mother of pearl creche was gifted to President Mattarella by the Custody of the Holy Land. The Italian delegation was then led by the head of the basilica’s restoration work, Marcello Piacenti, to visit the Crusader-era mosaics. Piacenti described the structure of the mosaics, the work that was carried out and the similarities with works in Sicily, since the president is of Sicilian origin.
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