In the days of the Holy Father’s historic visit to the heart of the Middle East in Abu Dhabi, the Grand Magisterium of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher visited the Holy Land on pilgrimage, led by H.E. Cardinal Edwin O’Brien; Ambassador Leonardo Visconti di Modrone, Governor General; Ambassador Alfredo Bastianelli, Chancellor of the Order; Msgr. Fortunato Frezza, Master of Ceremonies of the Order as well as 15 members of the Grand Magisterium staff.
The purpose of the pilgrimage is twofold: to visit Christianity’s Holy Places and to make the staff of the Grand Magisterium aware of the social, religious, political and infrastructural reality of the region. In fact, in the territory of the Diocese of Jerusalem, the Order finances many projects in support of the Church of the Holy Land. It is therefore a very useful journey to make the Order’s employees more aware and involved in their daily work and, at the same time, to view the sites where they invest significant resources for the development of charitable structures and works.
Visit to Jaffa of Nazareth
On Saturday, February 2, after the Mass near the Mount of Beatitudes, the delegation was received by Fr. Nidal Qanzou’a, Parish priest of St. John the Apostle in Jaffa of Nazareth, and Mr. Sami El-Yousef, Chief Executive Officer of the Latin Patriarchate, and Eng. Habib Sleibi, the Patriarchate’s Technical Manager. The Grand Magisterium and the staff members were able to visit the parish premises and the nearby nursery-kindergarten, built thanks to the contribution of the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulcher. Fr. Nidal, showed the progress made and the results achieved compared to the previous visit of the Order, explaining how all the structures comply with security regulations.
Visit to Bethlehem
After celebrating Mass at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher and visiting the St. Louis Hospital on Sunday, the delegation went to Bethlehem on the following day, Monday, February 4. The pilgrimage program included a visit to the Bethlehem University. Here to welcome the members of the Order were Br. Peter Bray, the Vice Chancellor of the University, and Mr. Isaac A. Sahhar, the assistant of the Vice President for the Advancement Office.
Br. Peter Bray led the delegation to visit the university, showing the structure, the departments in which it is divided, the classrooms and the premises; he explained the strengths and emphasized the virtues of this university center that continues to grow despite the obvious criticalities represented by the daily hostility of the Israeli government which, with its wall around Bethlehem and its crackdown on the mobility of people from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, makes commuters’ life difficult.
The delegation had also the opportunity to listen to four students from the university’s Student Ambassador Program talking about the quality of teaching and good employment prospects after graduation. Their experience was very significant for the members of the Grand Magisterium who were able to see how the funding for this University is well suited. Interculturalism, intellectual ferment and interreligious respect are just some of the great qualities of this university’s environment.
At the end of the visit, the delegation had lunch at the university’s Hotel Management departement. It may be interesting to know that the diners were divided into four tables in each of which was a young student ambassador, willing to answer questions and give more information about academic reality.
The moving visit to the Church of the Nativity followed, where the pilgrims gathered in prayer in the caves below the Basilica and adjacent to the Church of St. Catherine.
After the moment of contemplation, the delegation headed to the nearby Hogar Nino Dios, a center for disabled children run by the Institute of the Incarnate Word. Waiting for them, Sr. Pia, Mother superior, and the religious Fr. Pablo and Fr. Marcelo. The religious expressed gratitude for the precious contribution that the Order assign to Hogar (ie, “home”, “shelter”, “hearth” from Spanish, ed.).
A few steps from the place where the Child Jesus came into the world, the members of the delegation were able to discover an extraordinary reality of love and charity, a place where children with serious illnesses, often abandoned by their families, find care, welcome and attention from five sisters whose charism allows them to bear witness to Christ’s love for the smallest, the most defenseless, the most vulnerable.
Visit to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
The delegation’s pilgrimage ended on the morning of Tuesday, February 5 at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Here, the members of the Grand Magisterium and their staff have finally come into contact with some the employees and volunteers of the Diocese of Jerusalem, who make it physically possible to put into action the efforts of the Knights and Dames of the whole world.
Here the pilgrims were received by the Latin Patriarchal clergy, including Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine; Fr. Hanna Kildani, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel and Fr. Rafic Nahra, Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel. After a warm greeting, the Grand Master awarded Sister Monica Navalta, FSE, with an important honor, the Crucem ex Merito.
During the meeting, Bishop Marcuzzo underlined the importance, also strategic, of the schools of the Latin Patriarchate. In fact, about 80% of the funds that Order sends to the Holy Land are destined to the schools that the Patriarchate owns in the territory of the entire Diocese. Bishop Marcuzzo insisted that this type of investment is the most forward-looking possible for those who want to support the faith in the Holy Land, because it represents the most effective channel through which the local Church trains today’s students, who will be tomorrow’s Christians. Fr. Rafic Nahra spoke to the delegation afterwards, describing the activities the Church is carrying out in the direction of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Israel, witnessing a concrete commitment that nobly embodies the love that Christ taught us.
The delegation was then received in the conference hall for a meeting with the employees of the Latin Patriarchate, during which, Mr. Sami El-Yousef, presented to the members of the Grand Magisterium and to his staff, all the employees of the Patriarchate. He described the organization with which the work of the Patriarchate is divided, citing the names and activities of each sector in which it operates. Among them the Chancellery, the finance office, the social work office, the engineering department, the Project Development Office and the Media Office. In doing so, he took the opportunity to warmly thank the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, represented there by his executive organ, for their constant efforts through the financial help provided to the Church of the Holy Land, without which it would be impossible to work. Finally, this meeting represented the occasion for the employees of the Patriarchate and those of the Grand Magisterium’s Staff to personally make mutual acquaintance, to finally give a face to the women and men with whom they collaborated for years behind a screen, via e-mail or mobile communications.