The testimony of Friar Luca Panza, guardian of the sanctuary of Capernaum on the Lake of Galilee

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Capernaum is one of the most loved and visited places in the Holy Land. The site, especially in the last two years, has seen an exponential increase in the number of visitors with an average of 5000 tourists a day, and peaks of over 6500 in high season. Since the 18th of March “the city of Jesus”, as can be read on the sign at the entrance of the sanctuary, has been closed to the public. Containment measures have been taken to stem the spread of the Coronavirus. All the sanctuaries and places of worship in the country are closed. We are told about the situation by Friar Luca Panza, guardian of Capernaum.

How goes life on the shores of the Lake of Galilee?

Our life hasn’t essentially changed, it is always marked by work and prayer. However, the work to be done is different. We do not have to cope with the large numbers of pilgrims who visit the shrine every day. The first Sunday closing was impressive, the first in seven years, since I have been the guardian of the site.

What is your work at the moment?

The site, although closed, needs constant attention. Weeds, water infiltration: you always need to make sure everything is in order. This year the level of the lake has increased by 4 metres, and we have to deal with that.

What is the reason for this rise in water level?

Certainly the heavy rainfall and the fact that the dam connecting to the Jordan River has not been opened. Days of heavy storms have damaged the banks, part of the work of this period is to bring new land and rebuild them.

A lot of manual work…

Our service now is to guard in a practical way and protect the place, for the moment, not to welcome, but to preserve. We clean as if we have to open tomorrow, but we do not know when tomorrow will be. It is a wait for a better future. And we haven’t stopped celebrating mass. Once a week we celebrate at the memorial to keep the place alive. Every Sunday on the remains of the house of Peter, one of the first domus ecclesia of the Holy Land, we renew our promise and pray for all those who ask us. We receive many requests for prayers at this time and try to pray for all. Prayer is very important and it is a way to be close to the people. I come from the province of Bergamo, one of the most affected by the virus. In my village of about 5000 inhabitants, 24 people died. Our prayers go to them and to all the sick.

How do you imagine the future?

The more time passes, the more there are worries especially for our employees and their families. Part of the proceeds from the entrance tickets covered the expenses of our local employees and gave 5 families a living. We don’t know when we will be able to reopen and what rules we will have to adopt to allow for a safe visit. However, we are continuing to work on improving the site. Together with the Custody’s Technical Office and the Office of Cultural Heritage, we are creating explanatory panels to help visitors understand even better the meaning of those black stones that visitors come to admire. We will be ready for the arrival of new pilgrims, which we hope will happen soon.