>>custodia.org, image courtesy of Poor Clare Monastery, Jerusalem
When the Poor Clare Sisters of Jerusalem speak about her, they seem to light up with joy. St. Clare of Assisi is their life example and the spark that has lit up their love for the Bridegroom Jesus. That is why on the saint’s feast day, August 11, the sisters were delighted to welcome the many faithful that came from all over Jerusalem for the celebration. Canonized in 1255, St. Clare was very close to St. Francis during his life, wanting to share the same kind of radical self-giving to Jesus. That is why the Franciscans and Poor Clares today are like brothers and sisters. “Our community is spiritually united to the Custody of the Holy Land,” said Sister Mariachiara, abbess of the convent. “Our mission is in line with theirs, but it is more prayer-oriented at its core.”
VESPERS. The celebrations for the Feast of St. Clare began with vespers on August 10, presided over by the Vicar of the Custody, Fr. Dobromi Jazstal. “For you sisters and for the entire Franciscan world, St. Clare is a figure of [God’s] call,” said the Vicar. After the Gospel was proclaimed, the story of Clare of Assisi’s transit into Heaven was told. “She is our sister and she invites us to never give up on our journey and our vocation,” said Fr. Dobromir in his homily. The Vicar also recalled that the saints are closely connected to us by charity. What the saints do not have and what we must treasure is time on this earth: “We are in time and have time. We do not know [how long we will be here], but it is up to us to decide what to do. I am sure that if St. Clare could, she would quote the words of Jesus himself, “Walk while you have the light.”
THE MASS. On August 10 at 10 a.m. in the very packed Church of the Convent of the Poor Clares, the mass to celebrate St. Clare was presided over by the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa. “Today’s readings focus heavily on the word ‘stay,’ a key word for the Gospel and for our lives,” said Mons. Pizzaballa during his homily. We must remain in Christ and to the extent that we are united to him, we have life.” St. Clare was a living example of what this ‘staying’ meant and she was determined to live out his will without any [material] security and without anything of her own. “May the Lord give you the sweetness to taste the joy of the Lord in Christ,” concluded Pizzaballa.
“We are in a Jewish neighborhood, but residents also have Palestinian friends,” said Fr. David Neuhaus, Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate for Hebrew-speaking Catholics. The sisters here make an effort to keep the two peoples together and it is an important work that they carry out for the Church. We count on their prayer because they are consecrated to praying for peace, for righteousness and for the peoples of this land. We are here to work and also to pray, so we try to be present when there are special celebrations,” explained Francesca, an Italian volunteer for the Custody who attended the mass.
THE POOR CLARES LAUNCH A WEBSITE. The feast of their founding saint was also the opportunity for the Poor Clares of Jerusalem to launch their first website. The community in the Holy City is composed of twelve sisters from Italy, France, Rwanda, Argentina and, although it was founded by the French, it has become quite international in recent years. “We want to give an international face to prayer because Jerusalem is like this,” said Mother Abbess, Sister Mariachiara. “For us it is a great challenge: to bear witness that this is like a fraternal laboratory of reconciliation and peace.” But why launch a website? “So as to reach the youth and to send out a message that can reach the whole world. It is a message of peace and redemption. And then we would hope that if someone feels called to give their life to the Holy Land, they will know that we are here,” said Sister Mariachiara. “The goal, then, is to give a face to the Poor Clares of Jerusalem, to talk about vocations,” explained the abbess, “and also to speak of an important Poor Clare, Sister Mary of the Trinity, who came through that very convent in Jerusalem.
BEING POOR CLARES IN JERUSALEM. “Our mission is prayer and we have recurring appointments that allow us to elevate our hearts to God so as to sanctify the sanctuary of time. We pray seven times a day and have our daily appointment with Eucharistic adoration, as well as weekly ones like divine lectio and the Way of the Cross.” Sister Amata describes life at the convent. As for the rest of their time, there are plenty of activities for the sisters to do, as Sister Maria of Nazareth explained. “We prepare the hosts and we make handicrafts. We also manage a guest house. Bookmarks, book covers, passport covers, candles: these are all of the items that we produce there.”
For a secularized world, cloistered life is hard to comprehend, but the Poor Clares have no doubts as to how beautiful it is. “Our life is completely given [to God]. Personally, I felt attracted by the fraternal love of St. Clare, through the concrete actions to her sisters. Her love leads to service,” explained the abbess. Sister Maria of Nazareth added, “In order to become a Poor Clare in Jerusalem, you must have double vocation, because, beyond being fascinated by Christ, you must have love for the Incarnation in the holy places. Being here means staying close to the feet of Calvary so as to receive Jesus’ spirit, who gives us life,” said Sister Amata without hesitation. “Our mystery of interecession is a way of “placing ourselves in the middle” so as to hem humanity back together, like Jesus did. We are in a country that is full of conflicts and we are in the middle of it with prayer.”