2012
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With Jesus in His agony in Gethsemane: Second Lenten Pilgrimage to Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Basilica of the Agony at Gethsemane, March 14, 2012

On this Wednesday of the third week of Lent, the traditional second pilgrimage of this time of preparation for Easter took place, with a solemn celebration at 4:00 p.m. in the Holy Place of Gethsemane, where Jesus lived the first moments of His passion, praying and suffering on the night of his betrayal and arrest in the Olive Garden.

The Holy Land Franciscan community came in large numbers for the Solemn Holy Mass preceded by Vespers, with Brother Artemio Vitores, Custodial Vicar, presiding. Gathered about the high altar, at the foot of which lies the rock of Jesus’ agony, protected and encircled by a low wrought iron fence, were many Franciscan friars and other concelebrating priests. At the side of the altar to the rear was of the choir, accompanied on the organ by Brother Armando Pierucci, , director of the Magnificat, the Franciscan Custody’s music school in Jerusalem. Inside the evocative Basilica, where the perennial twilight from the purple stained glass windows beckons us to deep meditation, were gathered men and women religious of many of the Orders present in the Holy Land, members of the local Christian community, and numerous pilgrims who, in these days of Lent, not long before Holy Week, come in ever increasing numbers to visit these places, so important to every Christian, and to participate in the special ceremonies that take place there.

The liturgy of the Holy Mass offers the image of the suffering servant of the Lord, admirably described by the prophet Isaiah (Is 53:1-7a) and the passage from the Holy Gospel of Saint Matthew about Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane on the night of the arrest that would quickly lead to the cross (Mt 26:36-46). In this holy place of Gethsemane, in the silence that surrounds it as evening falls, in its muted colors and in God’s closeness that we feel here in a special way, the touching words of these readings take on an even more vivid significance, causing us to feel acutely Jesus’ anguish before the passion that awaited him, his fear, and consciousness of the solitude and suffering to which he was called for the salvation of the world. This Lenten pilgrimage along the path that brings us to the greatest moments of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, leads us to discover and connect with Christ’s profound humanity, with his most earthly feelings of fear and dismay in the face of pain and death, with the effort it cost him to fully accept the Father’s will and offer his life in complete humility and obedience, going up to the cross alone to see the friends who had been closest to him until then go their separate ways. Only Mary his mother and John would be at the foot of the cross. But in Jesus’ abandoning himself to the will of the Father, in his absolute trust in the closeness of God, lies the true greatness of humanity and of the teachings of Christ, always open to life and hope, who, by embracing the cross, definitively bound the destiny of humanity and the world to the life of God.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, everyone present wanted to approach the altar in order to touch the stone on which Christ suffered and to turn to the Lord with a brief, silent prayer, just as Jesus did, waiting here and praying with all his strength, preparing himself, in communion with the Father, to give his life for the lives of all.

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Bro. Giorgio Vigna

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