“In Jerusalem, in the Holy City, the Franciscans for a long time, for many centuries have many housing units for the Christian community, for the living stones. And it is a place where memory and living stones coincide.” These are the words with which Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land and President of ATS pro Terra Sancta introduces the project “Jerusalem: Stones of Memory” undertaken by ATS pro Terra Sancta thanks to the contributions of generous private donors. “These houses, however, need to be refurbished, to be put in good order, precisely because they are very old and, therefore, as Custody of the Holy Land and Holy Land Association, we have begun the restoration of the housing units for the Christian community.” With the aim of maintaining “alive” these places of memory due to the presence of living stones, and of giving dignity to the life of Christians who live in the Holy Land.
There are about 600 housing units, while thus far only a few more than 80 have been restored. So many requests, therefore, that have not yet been accommodated. “Everyone wants everything all at once and this too is a problem, in establishing criteria. The criteria are not only the actual needs but also the economic ones. It’s necessary above all to start from the budget we have available. And it is not always easy to balance expectations, reality and possibility”, says Father Pizzaballa.
So many problems, in the development of the works as well as in the administration of the housing units. “In taking the work forward there are always problems”, explains the Custos of the Holy Land, “problems of various types. First there are problems with the families, paradoxically because after so many years of lack of care for their houses perhaps they are afraid of losing their place, and therefore there is a whole cultural work that has to be done. Then there is the physical work, concrete, because the structures to be conserved are ancient. But it’s a question of buildings under the protection of the Israeli Antiquity Authority and hence not all of the expected solutions, nor all the ones that one might like, can be implemented because, rightly so, the properties have to be preserved. Then there are the problems with the workers, a large part of whom have to come from the Territories because there aren’t enough workers in Jerusalem. But to obtain permissions for these people is always a very complicated matter.
But the works and the fundraising for the restorations of these most important buildings continues. “The fact that the houses are near the Holy Sepulchre is fundamental for us. Part of the vision of the Custody is that the Holy Places are alive and hence it is important that they are lived in. We must inhabit these spaces. At the beginning, in the first centuries, the first Christians, the Disciples, came together in the Holy Places to pray. They lived around the Holy Places. Capernaum was a Domus Ecclesiae. They lived there, they lived around. And this principle must be maintained. Because stones of memory and living stones are linked. This is indissoluble. For this reason it is essential for us to restore the houses that are around the Holy Sepulchre, because the Holy Sepulchre is not only a place of memory but also a living place where the Christian community continues to come together.
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