The Intervention of the Custos of the Holy Land at the Rimini Meeting

Giacomo Pizzi24 August 2011

The intervention of the Custos at the Rimini Meeting on the occasion of the presentation of the exhibition on Jesus’ life at Capernaum – “Through the eyes of the Apostles – A presence that overwhelms life”.

The exhibition “Through the eyes of the Apostles – A presence that overwhelms life” was officially presented by the Custos of the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, during a session at the Rimini Meeting. The exhibition on Jesus’ life at Capernaum was produced with the support of the Custody of the Holy Land and was carried out through the collaboration of ATS Pro Terra Sancta. The address, given by the Custos, was deeply rooted in biblical and evangelical interpretation and was enriched with his personal experiences. His reflections touched fundamental themes, such as the concreteness of the Christian message as experienced in the places where Jesus lived and operated, the value of the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land, and the intercultural dialogue personally experienced during the studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The following are significant passages of this intervention.

It is this, I believe, to live the life and faith “through the eyes of the Apostles”: (…) here and now, in the small fragment of our biography and geography, we are able to experience and encounter “an immense certainty” because this has already taken place “in that time” and “in that place”.

 Still to be seen today in Capernaum are the streets on which Jesus walked, the threshold of Peter’s house. We can understand what life was like for the inhabitants of this time. We can see the kitchens with their ovens, floors, stairs, we can comprehend what the thatched ceilings were like. Among these houses, there is also that of Jesus. We can see it and a few privileged ones can even touch it, there on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Those inhabitants did not have an emotional or theoretical experience. Jesus was there, in their midst, in their own homes. The events that disrupted their lives took place there, within the very real and ordinary context of their lives, transforming them.

 At that moment Capernaum tells us that the real life of Man remains the true Holy Land of the encounter with God. God is encountered through living one’s life in His manner, which is that of relationship, of open meeting with Him. There is once again a place of encounter between Him and us, and this place is simple reality, the way it is. Life lived with and for others is the only place for meeting with Him.

And when I say life, I am not speaking of something abstract, idyllic, or refined. No, I am speaking of life itself, and he who knows anything at all of his own heart, knows how much this is marked by ambiguity, by sin. Well, then, it is precisely this life and this earth that are the site of the encounter with Him. There is no experience of God without the drama, painful and beautiful, of the life of each one of us. Here, in our encounters, within our own homes, salvation takes place. The eyes of the Apostles have seen, and contemplated, this.

 Living in the Holy Land, I gradually became convinced of this. Not because I had learned this through the study of books but because I had had the opportunity to live it. In this regard, the Holy Land is a formidable place. Taking care of the Places is not simply a matter of archaeology. Living in the Holy Land since Franciscan times, and caring for the memory of the Places, obliges us above all to care for the testimony and the experience to which the Places make reference. The Place of the encounter where one arrives to the point of forgiveness should become the testimony of encounter and forgiveness. If Jesus lived in a land that provided an insight of truth and divinity to the human reality, it is possible to inhabit the Earth with and like Him. If there is a Holy Land, it means that there is a holy way of living on Earth. As Rahner says: if the Word became Man, then all men have the power to be the Word!

 So Capernaum tells us that on this earth and between men the encounter with God is always possible.

 For us, therefore, living in the Holy Land should only be this: to do what Jesus himself did, namely to live with vitality within this fractured world, to be the prolongation of His hospitable and giving life.

How do we do this? In a very simple way, that is to say simply seeking to live the Gospel. The mission, in fact, is not to do anything in particular, but to live the Gospel, in the place and in the conditions in which you are placed from time to time.

 To live the Gospel in the Holy Land, where things frequently become very complicated, where the past (and the present) of violence has marked the life of entire communities, social and religious, to the point of becoming the only thing that one reads about today, is then, for a Franciscan, to try to interrupt that vicious circle of violence and fear, by bearing witness to salvation.

 The pages of the Gospel of Capernaum speak to us of a very concrete salvation, and of a God who comes to live precisely in the space of your daily life, so that this daily life, just as it is, become the means of your encounter with Him. It is not necessary to invent anything.

 How do I encounter Jesus today? I am not always ready for the encounter. But I know what my strong points are: the Word and prayer, the Place and the people. Together. The relationship with the Place continually calls one back to the Event of which the Scriptures speak to us, making it a memory that is both near and concrete. The relationship with individuals compels you to certify the truth of your experience. The relationships in the Holy Land have been terribly injured. But by living there within this reality, you will find the daily challenges with regard to Christ and everything to have become concrete, difficult, and yet necessary: forgiveness, gratuitousness, liberty, charity, moderation, patience, welcoming… become a necessity. Denying yourself these attitudes would be a denial of yourself.

 In conclusion, as Franciscans in the Holy Land, we do more or less what all the others do: we pray, we study, we teach, we make excavations, we take care of the sites, we welcome people, we build houses, we work, we carry on our affairs, we buy and sell… But the meaning of what we do is not to be found in what we do, but in the possibility that comes from loving the life of Man, knowing precisely that each life represents the possibility of the Presence of God. This is the sacrament of an encounter. The objective is not the finished product, but the process, the encounter: it is the Gospel of the presence, it is remaining there, being there.

 We possess only one certainty, that the Lord continues to walk within the history of Man, which remains a demanding history, but one that is both occupied and forgiven. And hence precious.

We remain here with the desire of one who wishes to bring to everything that which is the unique novelty of our faith, which is salvation, a personal salvation that touches each and every person. Here we remain, therefore, holding the door open, as was open the home of Peter that welcomed the Lord Jesus.


Click here to read the full text of the intervention.


Photos Giovanni Zennaro

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