The Relic of the Holy Crib of the Child Jesus was a gift from Saint Sophronius to Pope Theodore I in the seventh century, currently housed in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.
The Holy Father’s gift comes after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas requested to borrow the entire manger, after which Pope Francis decided to gift a small part to be kept in the Holy Land permanently. Late last month, Vatican Museum experts extracted a fragment of the relic to send.
The thumb-sized fragment was given to the Custody of the Holy Land, the Franciscan priory tasked with guarding the “the grace of the Holy Places” in the Holy Land. They oversee the places associated with the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, said the relic would “rekindle faith in Jesus between the different Christian communities of the Holy Land” and bring “great honor to believers and pilgrims in the area.”
The relic arrived in Jerusalem last Friday to marching bands and cheering crowds. It was first present during Mass celebrated in the chapel of Our Lady of Peace at the Notre Dame Center. After veneration by pilgrims, the relic was processed to the Monastery of Saint Saviour for a recitation of Vespers and then taken to the Church of Saint Catherine for Mass. It’s now in storage until a proper plan of display is developed.
“May the return to Bethlehem of this piece of holy wood arouse in us the profound desire to be bearers of God. Now it is our hearts that are a manger: the holy crib of God made man. Pope Francis accompanies this gift with his blessing and with the fervid wish that the veneration of this illustrious relic can open the hearts of many men and women, adults and youngsters, the elderly and children, to receive with a renewed fervor of faith and love the mystery that changed the course of history. The Holy Father wishes, in particular, that the message of peace announced by the angels on the night of Christmas to the men loved by God, which for 2,000 years has rung out from Bethlehem, brings the gift of peace and reconciliation which our world needs more and more.” – Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, Apostolic Nuncio to Israel and Cyprus and Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine