The Council of Supporters of Association pro Terra Sancta, in Jerusalem

Giacomo Pizzi16 February 2015

The Conference of the Council of Supporters of Association pro Terra Sancta took place from 5 to 8 February, in and around Jerusalem: an immersion in the reality of the Custody of the Holy Land, from exhibitions of precious objects coming from the Treasury of the Holy Sepulchre, to walks through archaeological sites of inestimable value (unfortunately still all too little known and exploited), to an encounter with the Franciscans and the local communities.

The group of Supporters, consisting of influential individuals from both Italy and other countries, was able to learn up close about some of the areas of need on which Association pro Terra Sancta is currently working, through the implementation of specific projects. The aim of the Conference was in fact to work together with these major supporters to develop new strategies of action and promotion.

Commented one supporter, “I appreciated the balance between the preservation aspect and the more social ones, which have the objective not only of providing immediate aid but also, and above all, of triggering development processes in these very complicated areas”.

During these three days of visits the beauty of the places and the difficulty of the context emerged; and above all the commitment and will of Association pro Terra Sancta and its collaborators and volunteers to carry out projects of sustainable development.

In Jerusalem the visit focused on the extraordinary richness of the historical, archaeological and artistic heritage that the Franciscans have, for 800 years now, safeguarded in their monasteries. From the sword of Godfrey of Bouillon to Ottoman firmans, from liturgical vestments of exquisite workmanship to archaeological discoveries in the different Holy Places. Treasures that the friars wish to exhibit to the world, through a Museum – the Terra Sancta Museum – which will recount the history of the origins of Christianity and the Franciscan works in the Holy Land.

The social aspect of the Association’s projects emerged clearly in Bethlehem. After an enlightening overview of the current situation in the Palestinian Territories provided by the Consul-General of Italy in Jerusalem, Davide La Cecilia, the group met with the senior citizens who are looked after by the Antoniana Charitable Society. “A meeting that had a profound impact on me”, noted one supporter, “to look into the eyes of these older people who have been abandoned made me understand the enormity of the needs of this land”.

In Bethany, the place of Lazarus’ resurrection where today a Franciscan church stands, the group was welcomed by several local leaders including the president of Al Quds University. Together with him the supporters visited the archaeological site that recounts the history of this place, cherished by both Christians and Muslims, and the four churches which were constructed in different periods and subsequently destroyed. The Association pro Terra Sancta project recently initiated in Bethany has the objective not only to study and preserve the site, but also to develop an effective collaboration with local actors: specifically, to increase the number of pilgrims by creating new tourism itineraries, training young local guides and involving local schools and universities. In this manner the awareness of young people and the local community regarding their heritage will be increased, with a focus on responsible tourism that will aid the village to escape from the serious economic depression in which it finds itself.

The visit to Sabastiya, where Association pro Terra Sancta and the Mosaic Center of Jericho have been working on a sustainable approach for several years, highlighted the benefits of involving the local community in heritage preservation. The walk through the archaeological site of ancient Sebaste, the descent into the tomb of John the Baptist and the visit to the Byzantine and Crusader discoveries provided a splendid setting in which to meet the young people from the village, the women, mosaic artists and restorers who today are the real protagonists of this Story. In the recently-opened guesthouse the group was able to appreciate the culinary arts of the women from Sabastiya, just as several hours previously they had sampled the delicacies prepared by the women of Bethany.

The Conference of the Council provided a valuable opportunity for the supporters of the Association to take stock of the ongoing projects and future activities, and will now serve as a starting point from which to promote these projects, in order to continue to create development based on the spiritual, social and artistic values of the Holy Places.

We would like to thank Guendalina, Paolo, Claudia, Gaetano, Anna, Graziano, Beatrice, Bruce, Tatiana, Giovanni, Raffaella, Miro, Angela, Helène, Antonio and Marco for the time spent together and for their support.