Jerusalem: like Francis and the Sultan, 800 years ago

An exhibition yet to be invented, our CL friends and those mothers who are marching in the name of peace, in a land full of contradictions. The diary of a journey written by the President of the Rimini Meeting. By Emilia Guarnieri

Three days in Jerusalem, with Alessandra and Roberto, to assess the feasibility of an exhibition, to be realized at the Meeting, in collaboration with the Custody of the Holy Land. The possibility to show the places where Jesus used to live. And the opportunity to tell how that Event continues to be present today.

The Franciscans have been serving the Holy Land for 800 years by safeguarding the places, the memory of the life of Jesus and by looking after the people, including christians and non-christians. We met many of them, Fr. Ibrahim, Fr. Firas; Franciscans who support, educate, give witness to hope and announce God’s salvation in Syria, Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

The friars in Jerusalem have started to catalogue all the archaeological, iconographic and photographic material for a new museum. The name of Fr. Giussani stands out on the plate which commemorates the benefactors who have contributed to the initiation of this endeavour; this is a further sign of the deep affection which ties us to the history of the Custody and carries within a suggested ‘position’ of the heart to hold onto during our visit.

Received by Fr. Francesco Patton, the Custodian, and accompanied by Fr. Stephan and his collaborator Marie, we began to immerse ourselves in the beauty of almost 800 years of Franciscan presence, in an attempt to imagine the exhibition for the year 2017. But then, why not think about a broader exhibition project, for the year 2019? 800 years would then have passed since the historic meeting between Francis and the Sultan, an example of dialogue between two different men, who had the boldness to talk to each other. The Sultan was not converted, but Franciscans friars could continue to live in those places peacefully.

While the exhibition planning was taking place, our days in Jerusalem became an opportunity for unexpected encounters. It amazed us to see the simple but still conscious certainty of our friends of CL who are living there and who have joined the historic presence of Sobhy. Benedetta, Ilaria, Sara, archaeologists, journalists, and custodians. One evening, after the gesture (mass followed by school of community and dinner) which once a week gathers no less than 30 people, Benedetta came to greet us, along with Bernadette. A new encounter. Bringing a violin with her, with sparkling eyes, vibrating with emotion like the chords of her instrument, she told us about her family, interwoven by music; notes, loved and shared, became a caress to the pain of life. She now studies and plays in an orchestra in Tel Aviv. She is the last of four children, all musicians, just like their parents; she told us about Emmanuele, her brother, a composer, with such an esteem and affection that we longed to meet him and listen to him play. Who knows, maybe the next Meeting could be the just the opportunity to listen to him, his brother and their orchestra play…

Jerusalem is a fascinating city; you touch the stones touched by Jesus, while walking through many contradictions, diversities and hostilities. You make your way among Jews, Muslims, Christians, Palestinians, Israelis, all people hurt by violence and persecution, where war is a normal condition. One can well understand the wisdom of those who have been living here for years, such as Nuncio Giuseppe Lazzarotto; he knows that a possible peacemaking process is a long-term one, and relies on the education and the vivacity of peace initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians.

We met one of these initiatives, Women wage peace. Israeli mothers, willing to strive to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end, have been joined by Palestinians, Christians, and Muslim women. They began by gathering in their homes and they spoke about peace. Towards the end of October during the “March of Hope” thousands of them marched from North to South Israel, along the border, while Palestinians and Jordan mothers marched the other way. They count on many solidarity committees in many countries of the world. As a Hebrew saying goes: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it”. “Diversity is a gift”, they told us.

“Here, whatever matter we discuss -women, education, rights- we realize that we are different, but I would say to my partner, “I love you anyway, let’s move forward together” says Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It’s easy to say “I love you all the same”, as simple as the hope that “one who has been saved cannot help but have”. Once again, during our long conversation with him, we saw a “redeemed gaze” in action, that gaze which he showed us during his speech at the 2014 Meeting. It is a gaze which is not a response to all matters, but one that urges us to adopt the right attitude in order to face them. Within a context of such unresolved problems as that, it is clear that his gaze is indispensable for life.