On Tabor: the Transfiguration with Father Ricardo Bustos

Giovanni Caccialanza6 August 2022

On the occasion of the feast of the Transfiguration, which will be solemnly celebrated tomorrow, August 6, here is the interview with Father Ricardo Bustos, guardian of the Shrine of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the top of Mount Tabor. In his sixties, Father Ricardo is smiling and serene. His habit sways in the wind that caresses the leafy garden in bloom, all around the sanctuary, a spot of vivid color among the fields of Galilee. He sits on a thin wall just outside the two high towers of the façade of the church and begins to tell about himself and, above all, begins to talk about the Gospel.

Father Riccardo, you know the whole Holy Land well; tell us a little about yourself, how you arrived at the shrine of the Transfiguration.

I am from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I received my vocation there, and then I was immediately sent to Rome, to learn the language. In 1983 I went down for the first time to the Holy Land, to study theology, and I was ordained a priest in Jerusalem.

From the Holy Land I then had to return to Italy, to Rome, where I was asked to be the teacher of the provandi, the postulants of the Franciscan order. Then, in the following nine years I was in Buenos Aires, in Nazareth and again in the Argentine capital, where I set up a ‘Pilgrim Centre’, with which I took the groups to the Holy Land.

I did three years in Bethphage, then, passing through Jordan, they sent me nine years to Nazareth (initially they had to be three, then three more were added, then another three at the request of the then caretaker Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa). It was a magnificent experience, we revitalized the sanctuary, too often closed, with Eucharistic adorations, torchlight processions and rosaries meditated on the life of Jesus in Nazareth.

From 2013 to 2016 I lived in Bethlehem and I can say that I fully enjoyed the restoration of the Basilica of the Nativity. I am very passionate about archaeology and often stopped to look at the works: the sources are very important. See the tubes of the Constantinian age, the frescoes, the walls… it was very helpful to understand better. Poi, dal 2016 ad oggi, sul monte Tabor …

Here we are. Who are you here with? What does it feel like to live here on Mount Tabor the feast of the transfiguration?

Today there are only three of us in this convent: Friar Francisco Candrai, from El Salvador, Friar Salem Yunus, a Syrian, and myself. A bit like Peter, John and James…

I think that the Transfiguration is an everyday experience, not just the 6th of August. This is because it springs from the fundamental question that Jesus addresses to the disciples: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ And this question is always timely; therefore the Transfiguration is also always timely. And, lived in this way, the Transfiguration is also a reality for everyone, not only for Christians, but also for Jews, for Muslims; these, if they ask themselves who Jesus is, will ask themselves the question that Jesus himself asked the disciples, and this question is answered precisely by the Transfiguration.

In living the Transfiguration I believe it is important to keep glory and passion together. The glory of Jesus is fundamental: the Transfiguration is the door of the Resurrection. One does not live the Resurrection if one does not pass through its anticipation, which is precisely the Transfiguration of Jesus. But glory, we know, is not the glory of the world; it is the glory of the passion, of the cross. This is what we try to keep in this convent: if we do not bring all this closer to the people, the pilgrims enter, leave and do not even understand what it is. We have an important custody task.

Guard, of course. It is your mission. And guarding also implies materially intervening on buildings and communities. What projects are you carrying out here on Mount Tabor?

With the numbers we have it is not easy, but we do not resign ourselves …

Since November 2020, we have been carrying out the restoration work of the two large towers of the sanctuary’s façade. First we worked on the bell tower, then we began to restore the other one. The work was supposed to last six months, now we are at a year and a half. Obviously, the delays are all due to the pandemic.

Another important work was the one that led us to restore the spaces occupied from 2007 to June 2022 by the MondoX cooperative, which helps young people to get out of drug problems and bad social situations. They managed various facilities, including the dining room and the garden; then with the loss of the number of active people, in June 2022 the experience ended. We found ourselves with the management of many spaces previously assigned to others, and it is not easy. We had to call again a couple of workers who had been working here for fifty years, and who for some time we had been keeping on layoffs.

What we want is to implant a new community in the spaces left by MondoX. We contacted the Sisters of Evangelization, who gave us a positive response. They will essentially take care of the hospitality of the pilgrims in the Casa Nova of Nazareth.

And tomorrow? What will happen for the Feast of the Transfiguration?

Tomorrow’s feast begins to be prepared a few days before. Already in recent days families have come up to sleep under the tents, a way to remember the episode described in the Gospels, in which Peter asks Jesus to be able to build three tents. In recent years, the thing has been a bit distorted, because often there were those who started to make the barbecue …

Tomorrow, however, the pontifical Mass celebrated by the Custodian Father Friar Francesco Patton awaits us, in which the Apostolic Nuncio Adolfo Tito Yllana will also be present. Hoping that, with the decrease in the measures to contain the pandemic, a few pilgrims will return, we will head in procession to the chapel dedicated to the Discendentibus, which commemorates the disciples’ descent from Mount Tabor with Jesus, during which the Master requires his disciples not to say anything about what they had seen.

This symbolizes the return to reality, hard, sometimes a bit harsh…

Like that of this troubled land. How far from here the peace of the Transfiguration and the glory of the Resurrection seem.

Of course, this is a tormented land full of contradictions. I think the Resurrection is still a timely answer: after all, it is not something that is outside of history; Jesus brought her closer to history, he brought it into history. And the Resurrection is the very peace of Jesus, which only he can give: ‘I leave you peace, I give you my peace. Not as the world gives it, I give it to you.’ The answer to the problems of this context is the Resurrection, not the justice of men; this does not last. And our projects, especially school ones, smell a little like resurrection. It is with the boys that peace is sown; certainly – as Mother Teresa of Calcutta said – it is only a drop in an ocean. But we can do it.

Padre Ricardo Bustos, Monte Tabor