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Jerusalem – 150 year of presence

09/06/2006: Israel

Dear Sisters, Brothers, Associates and Friends,
The celebration of our anniversary for May 6th was a beautiful feast as we gave thanks for those four courageous women who, over 150 years ago traveled, on horse back, from the port of Jaffa and entered Jerusalem through the Damascus Gate. They took up residence in the Old City on May 6th1856, and formed the first Sion community in the Holy Land.

You were all present with us through your gracious wishes which came via telephone, cards, faxes and e-mails. Thank you to each one for your messages of love and support. Your greetings filled our hearts with happiness and gratitude and we felt the closeness of the whole Congregation throughout our day of rejoicing. We arranged your greetings and e-mails on the notice board near the front entrance, and these created a colorful welcome for our guests on their arrival at Ecce Homo for the celebration of the Mass at 3p.m.

Sr. Rosalie and Suzanne - volunteer, welcomed our guests upon their arrival, invited them to sign the beautifully prepared guest book and offered the specially prepared Mass booklet. To commemorate this special event we had a book mark printed with the names of the first four Sisters of Sion in Jerusalem. We have also included the date of Fr. Alphonse.s arrival in Jerusalem and the various dates of the Sionian institutions.

Sr. Trudy, in English and Sr. Anne-Catherine in French, welcomed everyone to the Eucharistic celebration in the Basilica and expressed with a great sense of joy and pride how pleased the family of Sion was to be celebrating this feast and giving thanks for all that the Lord has done for us over these 150 years. Calling to mind, with a grateful heart, the many Sisters of Sion, all the staff, and all those women and men who have supported the ministries of Sion here in the Holy Land. We pray that we will be faithful to our calling as sisters of Sion and that we will be ever conscious of, and sensitive to, the pain, fear and struggle of the peoples of this land, especially in this present conflict. We ask God to renew our efforts to be generous, to give us the courage to speak out and to stand in solidarity with all who suffer injustice . so that together we may be a blessing for each other.

His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, along with Co-adjutor Bishop, Monsignor Twal and auxiliary Bishop Monsignor Battish, the French consulate representative Pere Jean Luc and con-celebrants, among those were students from the English Biblical Program, gathered at the altar in the Basilica; together with sisters and brothers from other congregations, the family of Sion - both apostolic and contemplative brothers, associates, volunteers, staff and their families who had in the past lived here, friends - from far - including Marta from Rome, Ana and Florenţa from Romania, the latter had only arrived that very morning, neighbours and shop-owners from the via Dolorosa. All coming together to give thanks to God for all that has been received and shared over these 150 years of Sionian ministry in the Holy Land. You were all truly present and in particular our sisters and brothers who had lived in this Land and given many years of generous service in our institutions. With joy-filled and grateful hearts we remembered and prayed the Magnificat.

Our hope had been that many more past teachers and students could have been with us and in particular those now living in Jordan. However, due to difficulties in obtaining entry visas this was not possible. The hope is that in the near future there may be the possibility for a celebration and reunion in Jordan.

Towards the end of the Mass Sr. Régine presented Archalouz Kevorkian, the doyenne of the Anciennes, with a medal which was inscribed with Notre Dame de Sion, 1922 . 1929. Later in the afternoon the Anciennes presented the Sisters with a ceramic clock, depicting Jerusalem with the inscription - .

The involvement in the liturgy by so many and the inclusion of many languages enabled us to embrace the different cultures present. Larry and Rita Navakowski led us in music and song and were ably supported by the playing of the recorder by Sr. Michaela from the Benedictine Monastery in Abu Gosh. Fr. David Neuhaus gave the homily which I have attached to the end of this letter.

Following the celebration of the Eucharist in the Basilica, Sisters Marta, Diane, Rita and former teachers - Régine, Rose-Thérèsa and Carmen, led the congregation up to the terrace for the official opening, by the Patriarch, of the newly designed room containing ten tableaus of Sion. beginnings and ministry in the Holy Land. This room formerly referred to as the . Salon - will now be called .Salle de Sion.

The artistic ability and presentation of designer, Jean-Francois Ruelle, who prepared the material firstly on computer and then later applied these images to ten large tableaus, would not have been possible without the assistance of Sisters Isabelle-Marie Gelain and Rita Kamermayer. Their research and sifting of material in preparation for this display and their ability to stay with this project to its completion was truly remarkable. The final presentation of Sion.s history and the ministry of the Sisters since the arrival in 1856, is a beautiful work and was acclaimed by all as a wonderful tribute to a congregation of women who have continued to listen, to be attentive and to dare to adapt in order to respond to the changing needs and situation in which they find themselves here in this land.

In its presentation it is similar to the historical display in Fr. Marie house at Ein Karem. The tableaus were framed by George Jahshan, well know to many sisters and husband of Maha a member of the Ecce Homo staff.

Before the Patriarch entered the archival room for the blessing, Fakhri Mashasha, present employee of 60 years, and good friend of so many in Sion, unveiled the plaque identifying this historical display entitled:
Salle de Sion . Beginnings in Jerusalem.

The Patriarch then moved to the threshold and proclaimed the words of the psalm:
.Unless the Lord builds the house,those who build it labor in vain.. Ps. 127.

The sisters who led the procession to the terrace accompanied him carrying the paschal candle, holy water, incense, photo albums and flowers. While the Patriarch blessed the room, the congregation remained on the terrace to listen to the story of the arrival in Jerusalem of the four courageous sisters, Noëmi, Electa, Victorine and Marthe.

Included here are the final lines of our re-reading of their arrival.
Today, May 6, 1856, we arrived in Jerusalem! It feels like the beginning of a new era! The prayers of Fr. Alphonse are answered the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion is planted in Jerusalem!

We then rejoiced singing Jubilate Deo.

The celebration continued on the Terrace and all enjoyed a beautifully prepared reception. The sunshine was gentle, the food delicious and the atmosphere enabled guests and sisters from near and far to mingled, share stories of years long past, renewing precious friendships. To recall the words of Fr. Theodore and to speak of a .new era. is certainly true for the community here in Ecce Homo.

Our guests left Ecce Homo with happy hearts after an afternoon of delightful celebration. One past pupil was heard to say, .When I was here at school the Sisters embraced all students, I experienced no distinction between the different religions nor cultures.

The day ended as it had begun in a tone that echoed the words of Alphonse Ratisbonne printed on the front-cover of the Mass booklet.

You must expand your heart and make no distinction between Latin and Greek, Muslim and Jew, but embrace all in love. At morning tea on the day before the anniversary the staff presented the community of Ecce Homo with a beautiful wall hanging made by the women from Ramallah in delicate cross-stitch, with the words, May this be a house where love has come to stay Ecce Homo 150 years

This is our hope and prayer for all our houses, especially during this year of Jubilee Blessings of peace and deep joy to each one.

The Community of Ecce Homo.

Homily: Rev. David Neuhaus, SJ

Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, I Corinthians 1:4-9, Luke 24:32-49.

How could we begin our brief reflection today on the readings offered us by the Sisters of Sion to celebrate the arrival of the first sisters in Jerusalem with anything other than a repetition of the Psalm we just heard: .I was glad when they said to me, .Let us go to the house of the Lord!.. Let us close our eyes and imagine those four women, Noemi, Electa, Marthe and Victorine, accompanied by Father Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, on exactly this day, May 6, one hundred and fifty years ago.

They arrived at the gates of Jerusalem, and I don.t think we.re very far from a very probable historical reality if we imagine that they, like so many pilgrims before and after them, recited the psalm we just heard with great emotion.

Their arrival in Jerusalem marked a turning point in the history of the young Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, which was founded in 1843 by Theodore Ratisbonne, just thirteen years before the sisters. arrival in Jerusalem. The choice to put this congregation under the patronage of Mary, Our Lady of Sion, is rooted very precisely in Zion, in Jerusalem, touching the historical enclosure of the Lord’s House, where Mary together with Joseph brought the child Jesus to fulfill the Law of the Lord. The period of their arrival was also a turning point for the local Church, because the Latin Patriarchate had just been re-founded in 1847, and only the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition, which arrived in 1848, preceded the Sisters of Sion as an apostolic congregation in Jerusalem. We are here today to thank God for this arrival, to give Him thanks for the vocation of the Sisters of Sion in Jerusalem, and to intercede for their work, which continues until today:
- in welcoming the pilgrims who come up to this Holy City,
- in biblical formation, and
- in interfaith dialogue for peace, justice and forgiveness.

We also want to remember their educational work in this house, where for decades there was a school for girls, one in the series of schools founded in the spirit of Sion and spread throughout large cities of the Middle East.

With the apostle, we can celebrate a real .Eucharist., a thanksgiving that is centered on God.s fidelity to his promises, as the apostle said so well in the second reading: .God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.. (1Cor. 1:9) This fidelity is at the heart of the constant presence of the sisters over the last 150 years, years marked by events that greatly changed the face of the Church, of this Holy City, of our dear country, and of the It is only when we have been taught the ways of the Lord that we can walk in his paths and we know that those paths and paths of peace.
And so today, we invoke Jesus , ecce homo, the Risen Lord, the teacher who comes to his frightened disciples and says to them: .Peace be with you!. We ask him to come

and open our minds so that we too might understand the Word and see how it bears witness to the love of God and his fidelity. It is God.s love and fidelity that are our trust and hope for Jew and Palestinian alike, for Israel and for the nations.

So that Ecce Homo always, be a place of witness to God.s love and fidelity, we pray today. In this spirit, we evoke too the generations of sisters. that have lived here, worked here and prayed here, the girls who took classes in the Sisters. school, the men and women who have undergone biblical renewal and the myriads of pilgrims who have been made to feel at home here. Might this place continue to be for many more years one in which many wait to be .clothed with power from on high. so that from here they might go out to all nations bearing witness to the kingdom of God.
A DVD of the ceremony is now available from us at Ecce Homo Convent Jerusalem.