The Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher (Photo: Raimond Klavis/Unplash)

Holy Land: Caring for the body of Christ

Seven retirees in Jerusalem to serve the works of the Custody of the Holy Land. Humble works in the holy places, and many encounters with those who live Christianity in that land full of contradictions.

"Go there and take care of the body of Christ." With these words left to us by Fr. Ambrogio Pisoni we left for Jerusalem last May: a group of seven retirees belonging, some for a long time and some for a few months, to the "Romano Gelmini Association for the peoples of the Holy Land." Some of us did not know each other, and yet, thanks to the daily Mass in front of the shrine of the Holy Sepulcher where we recognized the origin of our being together, we experienced how charity is born from communion.

The association, which has been present in the Holy Land for about twenty years, responds to the needs of the Custody, putting its members at the disposal of the friars and other works of charity. So we found ourselves dusting the objects from from St. Peter's house in Capernaum in the Museum of the Flagellation with a mixture of veneration and trepidation, washing glass and floors in the little convent, where some of the friars live inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher led by Fr. Stephane, uprooting weeds and raking dry grass in the monastery of the Poor Clare nuns in Jerusalem.

For us, "caring for the body of Christ" also meant meeting people living in the land of Jesus, with whom a deep friendship has developed over the years, and listening to the stories of the suffering Church, which struggles every day to assert its freedom, while many discouraged Christians emigrate to other countries in search of better opportunities. Thus our humble dining room, in the lodging offered to pilgrims by the sisters in the Maria Bambina House of the Custody, became the venue for hosting witnesses for dinner. In the simplicity of a table whose only classy element was a bouquet of flowers as a centerpiece, we listened to archaeologist Fr. Eugenio Alliata and his collaborator Daniela Massara tell us about the latest developments in archaeological findings; Fr. Giuseppe Gaffurini, bursar of the friary as well as the unparalleled official cantor of the Latin Mass, tell us about the friendly relations with other religious denominations within the Holy Sepulcher and the difficulties of Christians; Fr. Alberto Pari, secretary of the Custody, enthusiastically describe to us the demanding preparation of the seminarian friars. Finally, the unexpected and valuable meeting with His Beatitude Monsignor Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who with paternal regard wanted to know about us and told us with concern the situation of the Church in the Holy Land.

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To meet Wafa, a young woman from Bethlehem, we had to go to her home because travel from Bethlehem is very complicated for her and her family. How moving it was to see the freedom with which they live in a difficult situation, having chosen to stay to witness to Jesus in the places where he was born and lived! As we touched the muddy water of the Jordan or paused on the shore of Lake Tiberias, images flowed through our minds of Jesus followed by John and Andrew as they walked away from the river or Jesus on the shore roasting fish while Peter, having recognized Him, dived into the water to meet Him. And we thought that He is here. He is here as on the first day and with His presence we can live wherever we are.

Chiaretta, Macerata, Italy