'Appearance While the Apostles are at Table' by Duccio di Buoninsegna via Wikimedia Commons

At Peter's Home

One of the curators presents here an introduction to the exhibit that brings Capharnaum to the Rimini Meeting in Italy this summer. Its goal: to see the event of Jesus through the eyes of the Apostles. What led those men to give their lives for Him?
José Miguel García

This year's Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples (August 21–27, Rimini, Italy), will host nine exhibits, from the figure of Blessed John Henry Newman to a presentation on subsidiarity in Italy's 150 years of nationhood; from the discovery of the atom to the life of the Russian writer Boris Pasternak. All aim to go to the heart of the festival's theme, "And Existence Becomes an Immense Certainty." One of these exhibits reconstructs the adventure of some Jews from Capharnaum after their encounter with Jesus: "With the Eyes of the Apostles: Life Overwhelmed by a Presence." The exhibit, created through the support of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, aims to help visitors better understand what happened when Jesus came to this town where He spent several months of His life. The locales and facts recounted in the Gospels are presented from the historical, archaeological, and exegetical standpoints through reconstructions, images, and panels. It all leads to the heart of the question: what led these men to give their lives for Him?

In order to frame the exhibit, we start from the place: Capharnaum. The village practically disappeared under the Arab domination of Palestine, starting in the seventh century. Abandoned houses and public buildings crumbled; the town fell into ruins. By the thirteenth century, the Dominican Burchard of Mount Zion would write, "The city of Capharnaum, at one time glorious, is at present very miserable, with just seven homes of poor fishermen." Soon afterward, Capharnaum disappears from memory. It would have been completely forgotten had it not been for a singular fact: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, lived and began His public ministry in that town. It was so important to Him that Matthew calls it "His own city" (9:1). The Franciscans, custodians of the Holy Land, acquired the ruins at the end of the nineteenth century and began excavations in order to rescue Capharnaum from oblivion. Thanks to their work, we now know better the place where Jesus lived during most of His apostolic activity. We can also understand the Gospel accounts in a more concrete way, accounts that speak to us of this territory, of His preaching here, and of the first miracles that happened in Capharnaum or nearby areas.

The exhibit is divided into four main sections. The first, focused on Capharnaum, displays the social and religious life of the time. Visitors can walk through one of the village streets and enter the synagogue. Next, we turn our gaze to the group of the disciples and their experience of a different, truer, humanity in their encounter with Jesus, discovering how they came to live a unity no human arrangement could have generated. In the second section, the exhibit describes what happened when Jesus began to preach and work miracles in Capharnaum. He cured Simon's mother-in-law of a fever; He liberated the demoniacs who crowded around Peter's house; He healed the paralytic who was lowered from the roof, after having forgiven his sins. ­ From that moment on, His fame spread throughout the region and beyond. From every town in Galilee, from Judea and the Decapolis, hundreds of people, moved by their need, with a great desire in their hearts, begin to arrive. The exhibit thus contains a reproduction of the lake and the places in which Jesus delivered His great sermons and worked some of his most portentous miracles.

The third section is entirely dedicated to Peter's house, which became the Lord's dwelling place for some years. The fourth is dedicated to Jesus' Resurrection and to the Christian worship that took place in that house (which therefore can be called the first House Church–Domus Ecclesiae). It is well known that some of the apparitions of the Risen One occurred in this very region. Moved by this unimaginable fact, the disciples went out into the world to make Jesus known to all peoples.

WITH THE WITNESSES. The methodological principle behind the exhibit is simple: to take the Gospels seriously. As Benedict XVI states in the introduction to his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth: "The main implication… for my portrayal of Jesus is that I trust the Gospels… I wanted to try to portray the Jesus of the Gospels as the real, 'historical' Jesus in the strict sense of the word." In reality, everything we know about Jesus comes from the testimony of the men that followed Him in His travels through the synagogues and fields of Palestine. To trust their testimony is not a naïve or uncritical position. Testimony does not negate the historical dimension–on the contrary, it takes it for granted, since it seeks to communicate what really happened, what the witnesses saw and felt. Testimony and history therefore go together. Thus, the reasonable way to face the Gospel testimony is not with doubt, as so many historical researchers have done, but with trust. One must give credit to the witness, unless there are well-founded motives for doubting his trustworthiness. Starting in principle from suspicion or distrust about the witness is a sign of madness or ill will rather than reasonableness. It is enough to recall what a trial judge does with the witnesses he faces.

All the Gospels come from eyewitnesses, either directly or indirectly. Some of them say so explicitly. Hence, all require the reader's trust. Modern criticism often approaches the Gospel testimony with suspicion or doubt, claiming that this is the only way to reach the historical Jesus, the truth of the event. Yet the results of modern criticism could not be more discouraging: tot capita, tot sententiae ("as many opinions as people"). The consequences achieved by such a posture of distrust reveal its methodological error. In truth, the only way to access the real Jesus is to take the testimony of the Gospels seriously.

It is true, however, that the Gospel writers communicate these historical facts because in them they recognized the fulfillment of the ancient promise, because they have salvific value for all men. As theologian Martin Hengel tells us, the Evangelists felt "compelled to narrate, through the report on the works and passion of Jesus of Nazareth, nothing less than the history of God's participation in the eschatological event, the history of His coming among men, and in this precise way, by narrating the fulfillment of the promise, to complete the historical narration of the Old Testament, to which, in one way or another, all were connected."

INTRIGUED BY HIM. Most certainly the path of knowledge laid out in the Gospels and witnessed to in the exhibit show us that something enters into human interest, impacts man through the power of truth, beauty, and goodness. The inhabitants of Capharnaum and its surrounding areas were intrigued by Jesus of Nazareth because they perceived that He was exceptional; they were intrigued by the fascination stirred up by what they saw and heard. That man had surprising intelligence, extraordinary goodness, and inexplicable power over nature. They followed Him, drawn by how exceptional He was. By staying with Him, they experienced a life that was more intense than anything they had ever known. This experience made them certain that the relationship with that Man who had come amongst them was good for them. Here lies the origin of certainty, the theme of the Meeting. "See how the faith makes me live more humanly," says Luigi Giussani. "If you have never been able to say this, then the faith will never become a conviction, and it will never become constructive, it will never generate anything, because it never touched the depths of your self, as is usually the case."

WHERE BEAUTY IS AT HOME. Even today, the path to becoming certain in the faith is to taste the change that Jesus introduces in our lives, to experience the truth of humanity that His Presence generates–in other words, to experience His capacity to awaken the self and to bring it to fulfillment. At the Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity of CL, Julián Carrón said, "A Christianity that is not capable of moving the person, of stirring up what is human, led to a disinterest in Christianity itself, making it become irrelevant." In his autobiography, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: "I would not know how to give a more convincing proof of the truth of the Christian faith than the sincere and beautiful humanity it generates."

From the archaeological perspective, the exhibit bears the stamp of Father Eugenio Alliata, Director of the Museum of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. On the exegetical side, we rely on the discoveries of the Exegetical School of Madrid. In his renowned book, The Ratzinger Report, the future Pope Benedict stated, "Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty–and hence truth–is at home. Without this the world will become the first circle of hell." In Barcelona recently, the Holy Father recognized that "beauty is man's great need." For this reason, we have taken great care that in these panels the truth of the faith be displayed with all the splendor of beauty, thanks in part to the help of Erasmo Figini, noted designer.

Some time ago, Julián Carrón highlighted the canonical value of the Gospels. In them, we witness what Christianity is and how it comes about, both then and now. Yet this dimension of the Gospels is not always taken into consideration. Quid accipitur ad modum recipientis accipitur: "Their contents are understood according to our mentality or measure," or else according to our prejudices. At times, what we think we know contributes to this reduced comprehension of the Gospels–the assumption that we already know what they are telling us.

The goal of this exhibit is to look at those facts through the eyes of the Apostles, just as the title says. We therefore wish to aid in perceiving the impressiveness and newness of the event that happened in this place, experiencing the same wonder and fascination as the people who saw and heard Jesus for the first time, and so to reach certainty.