The musicians of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia play for the Holy Land: Ruggiero, a violinist for the Accademia, recounts how the idea was born

Giacomo Pizzi9 October 2014

“My name is Ruggiero and I am a violinist, a member of the orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. I have recently returned with a group of ten people from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land organized by my parish in Rome. The trip was a very moving experience for a variety of reasons.

In particular, I was struck by our visit to Bethlehem. There, after having visited the places of the nativity of Jesus Christ, we met Vincenzo, who is working with Association pro Terra Sancta and who spoke to us about his experiences and his work. He told us that the children in the territories of the Palestinian Authorities in Bethlehem, especially the poor and disabled, constantly face the risk of being abandoned, because there are no social structures to accommodate them.  He told us also that the elderly when they stop working become impoverished and often have no children to take care of them, having been abandoned to their own means, as pensions do not even exist.

Association pro Terra Sancta, the NGO of the Custody of the Holy Land, helps to pay the school fees of poor children, and in Jerusalem also supports a school which teaches music to all children, regardless of their origin. “Well”, I said to myself, “how wonderful”. Then we went to visit the St. Anthony center for the elderly poor and disabled  run by the Maria Gianelli Institute. There I saw their real situation with my own eyes: I saw the lucky ones!

In a corridor there were a dozen elderly women, all with more or less serious illnesses and problems, all happy to see us. They were visibly excited because we had come to find them and for them it was like a party! One of the elderly women, Nelly, was in a separate room – she was in a very poor condition. She is there because there is no one who can take care of her, she is ill and is being cared for as if she were in a hospital and, I must say, cared for with much love. Looking at us with incredible joy she said in French “Je m’appelle Nelly, je m’appelle Nelly” and this, unexpectedly, went straight to my heart. I was actually terrified: during the entire visit I couldn’t even manage to speak, I was moving slowly and reluctantly; I tried to smile but in reality I was unhappy and angry at having been brought to them without warning. My pride, my vanity, my Western sense of well-being had been stripped and humiliated by the situation. And since then that phrase “Je m’appelle Nelly, je m’appelle Nelly” has continued to resonate within me as if it were a symphony by Bruckner. That women with joy in her eyes, it was as if she had said to me “you who at this moment are for me the most important person, do you know my name? My name is Nelly”. My heart still stirs.

When I went back to Rome, knowing that my parish would be returning to the Holy Land in December for a new pilgrimage, I immediately thought of organizing a pair of concerts in the parish itself to benefit this cause. Concerts with free admission and donations welcome.

I was thinking: 50 euros a person, for attending two high-quality concerts, would be sufficient and we would collect a large sum to  help save the lives of more of the elderly, more of the children, and to be able to welcome more students in the school – and, I’m not sure why, the visit I made to Schindler’s grave in Jerusalem came to mind. I understood that we can all do something to help others.

I informed the parish priest of the concerts and he was delighted and made available the facilities of our parish for the project. I initially got a few of my friends from the orchestra involved, who accepted right away. Suddenly it occured to me to try to get the whole orchestra of the Accademia to participate and I made an announcement on the stage during a pause at a rehearsal. It’s incredible, I must admit that I was not expecting what took place, I was really amazed how at a time when everyone is facing economic challenges the project was “adopted” by the entire orchestra.

The choir did likewise, so the two concerts I had initially envisaged had become six! And all of a very high level – the best existing if Italy, if not all of Europe. Indeed a recent survey listed the Orchestra di Santa Cecilia as one of the ten best in the world.

I have to say that without my friends and colleagues, without the enthusiasm of the musicians who joined this initiative, I would not have been able to do very much: constantly during pauses in the rehearsals, before and after the concerts, they stop me and and ask – and now? the rehearsals? the concerts?

And they thank me. They actually thank me. Incredible. I would like to thank them and thank Nelly at the same time. Now I understand, I know your name: your name is Nelly”.


Association pro Terra Sancta is pleased to invite all of its friends to participate in these charity concerts organized by the musicians of the prestigious Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. The proceeds will go to support the following projects: Bethlehem and the children of the Holy Land (in particular for child sponsorship), Bethlehem is also for the elderly, Emergency Syria, and Jerusalem — Stones of Memory.

The program of the concerts is attached.