2012
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The pilgrimage is meeting Christ in His land: third day of the International Conference of the Commissaries of the Holy Land

Jerusalem, Convent of St. Saviour, 1st February 2012

The day of 1st February opened for the Commissaries and for the other participants of the 3rd International Conference with the celebration, in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, of Holy Mass presided by the Custos of the Holy Land, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa. In his homily, the Custos reflected, in valuable terms, on the meaning of the empty tomb and on the revolutionary transformation that the experience of the empty tomb, even before the encounter with Christ Risen, produced on the Apostles. This reflection is particularly suitable to introduce the topic at the centre of the day, namely The Commissary as animator of pilgrimages: pastoral and practical aspects, as it touches on an essential aspect of the experience of the Holy Land. Peter and John see the Lord’s tomb empty, experiencing a death that has been defeated forever, and believe, opening up to the real and full meaning of the Scriptures. After this, they return home, as there is nothing more to be done at that tomb. Their faith has already gone further and, after their return home, the Lord Risen comes to meet them. This is the synthesis of the Christian adventure, the essence of the pilgrimage in the Holy Land: “We start off together, like Peter and John, but each person has their own background of experiences, of questions, with their own need for salvation, with their own experience of faith. Each at their own pace. […] The pilgrimage is arriving with the whole of ourselves inside the mystery of life, of resurrection, of hope, it is plunging into this mystery; it is seeing and believing. And then returning, like Peter and John, to our homes, to our own lives, but returning transformed by an experience of salvation, with a hope in our hearts.” The Commissaries, as organizers and animators of pilgrimages, thus have the delicate task of helping each person have a similar beautiful and authentic experience of the Holy Land.

These topics were then picked up again and examined in depth in their technological, pastoral and practical aspects in the penetrating talk by Brother Frederic Manns, Dean Emeritus of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum and professor of New Testament Exegesis and ancient Judaic Literature. “Despite the profoundly personal nature of the experience in the Holy Land,” Brother Manns stated, “the pilgrimage itself unites all believers with the Churches of Jerusalem. It unites them in Christ, in faith and in their contribution to preserving the precious Christian legacy in this land. This is the grace of the Holy Places.” The suggestions and indications offered by Brother Manns on the pastoral and practical level to give the pilgrimage its full meaning were truly invaluable. He pointed out the essential aspects that give value to the pilgrimage, which has as its main aim the encounter with Christ in His land and reading the Bible in situ. This is why the Church speaks today, with regard to the pilgrimage in the Holy Land, about a new evangelization: Brother Manns presented in detail the characteristics that this new evangelization must have, opening up the reflection on the ecumenical and inter-religious dimensions, which cannot be ignored when visiting the Holy Land. In the second part of his lecture, Brother Manns concentrated on the practical and organizational aspects of the pilgrimage, offering guidelines and highlighting many critical elements that represent very effective stimuli for the reflection of the Commissaries, who are called on to play an active and primary role in organizing pilgrimages and for the drafting of the Vademecum, the guide or manual to help the Commissaries in implementing the indications provided by the Custody’s governing body and to ensure a competent service for the Holy Land and the pilgrims who visit it.

The reflection on the Vademecum was then taken up again in the short talk by Brother Giorgio Vigna, who is in charge of the newly established Commissariats Liaison Office and Secretary of the Conference. A draft of this instrument for their work, which was decided by the previous International Conference in 2006 to make the mission of the Commissariats easier, had already been sent to the Commissaries in early January 2012 so that they could begin to examine it. The document dwells on many important and wide-ranging topics: from being a Commissary to his work, from pilgrimages to administration and from internal relations to communication. These topics are taken both from the current legislation of the Order and the Custody (shown in Part One) and the needs indicated by experience. In Part Four, the Vademecum also contains the description of the new Commissariats Liaison Office, requested by the last International Conference and which became operative in 2011, having as its first task the organization of this 3rd Conference of Commissaries. It will also have to meet the numerous expectations of communication and organization that both the Custody and the Commissariats have expressed on many occasions. The draft Vademecum, therefore, Brother Vigna stated, has tried to take into account the reciprocity of the parties involved both in the relations and in the actions, because the final document will have to show the requests, the expectations and the needs of both the Commissaries and the Governing Body of the Custody.

In the afternoon, the linguistic groups again continued their work, discussing the text of the draft of the Vademecum, for the purpose of enriching it with contents, correcting and modifying it, in the light of the knowledge and experience that the Commissaries and the collaborators can provide. It is a delicate and challenging task, also because the guide has to address Commissariats in four continents, where habits, customs and laws are produced, expressed and implemented in different ways.

The day came to an end with the celebration of Vespers at the Church of St. Saviour, presided by Brother Gottfried Egger, Commissary of the Holy Land in Switzerland.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Miriam Mezzera

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