February 2014

Gethsemane: The end of an important project for Jerusalem and the young people in the city

It was in 2011 when, as a sign of friendship and peace, a partnership was created between Jerusalem and the Municipality of Rovereto, in Italy, for the project called “Gethsemane: preserve the past and train the future”. The main objective was to restore the mosaics in the Church of All Nations (located in Gethsemane), but with a special emphasis in involving the local community. Six young people from Jerusalem have been trained on the art of restoring mosaics and 1500 children have been taken on visits of the church and the site.

In this way we were looking to increase the bond between the young people and their own land, by teaching them to value the richness of this city’s history and art. This project, whose objective has been achieved by far, finished on the 31st January by giving the six young Palestinians (three boys and three girls) their certificates, in the presence of the Palestinian Ambassador of the Holy See —Aissa Kassissieh—, the Italian Consul —Elena Clemente—, the mayor of Rovereto —Andrea Miorandi—, the assistant director of the Opera Campana dei Caduti Foundation —Lorenzo Saiani—, the councillor of the Custody of the Holy Land —fra Ibrahim Faltas—, the mayor of Bronzolo —Benedetto Zito—, as well as Carla Benelli and Osama Hamdan, coordinators of the project for ATS pro Terra Sancta and for the Mosaic Centre of Jericho.

The ceremony took place at Ma’mal, a Palestinian cultural centre located in Jerusalem’s Old Town. All the authorities that attended have underlined the historical bond between Italy and the Holy Land, symbolised by this cooperation, with a focus both in the past —by protecting the artistic heritage— and in the future —by training and sensitising the young Palestinians to the art, as a way of promoting peace—.

Carla Benelli and Osama Hamdan have described this experience with the young people, which has lasted one and a half years, as fascinating but, at the same time, extremely tiring. 10 million is the number of tiles that the young restorers and the experienced mosaicists have cleaned with the objective of bringing back the old splendour of these high-quality mosaics. Some of the details are highly precise and date back to the 1920’s. The young people also restored byzantine fragments that were mentioned by famous pilgrim Egeria back in the 4th Century, in her Itinerarium. This beautiful work was on its way to getting lost forever, as Osama Hamdan highlighted, due to some water filtering from the roof (which was repaired by expert craftsmen from Trento, in Italy). The biggest damage was affecting the base of the vault, but there was damage in other areas as well. The training that was given to these young Palestinians has been “all-round”, teaching them, not only the techniques but also giving them theoretical lessons covering History of the Art and offering guided tours with expert academics.

Thanks to this project, the young people —Anas, Salam, Esra’, Muntasser, Raed and Dana— have developed their talent as well as specific skills that are not very widespread in a territory that, paradoxically, is so full of mosaics. Now they have a potential career as mosaic restorers ahead of them.

The project envisages a new phase of development that will examine the church of Dominus Flevit in the next few months, with the participation of the Municipality of Bronzolo, in Italy.

Beauty, culture and work are a path to achieve peace. The bullets from the war in 1967 left their mark in the mosaics of the façade at Gethsemane, a mark that shows that hate never has the last say and peace is something that we have to build together.

Video produced by Franciscan Media Center.

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