In a few days, the Franciscans will visit the Upper Room to celebrate Pentecost at the place where the Holy Spirit was given to the world. They go there twice a year: for the washing of feet on Holy Thursday and for the prayer for Christian unity in January. For several reasons, it is impossible to celebrate mass here, and thus more “simple” prayers are recited here.
This is why the Franciscans settled in the “St. Francis monastery next to the Upper Room,” which is very close to this holy place that tradition tells us is both the place of the Last Supper and Pentecost. “The goal is to allow pilgrims to celebrate the Eucharist closer to where Christ instituted it,” said Br. Enrique Bermejo, the monastery’s guardian. The Friars Minor lived on Mount Zion from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, and they then were expelled and settled at Saint Savior’s Monastery, where they still live. They only returned to Mount Zion in 1936, to two houses purchased from Palestinians and set up for the fraternity, affectionately called the “Little Cenacle” or “Cenacolino,” in Italian. Five friars, all from different places around the world, live here now.
“I am Brazilian and there is also Quebecer, a Pole and there are two Spaniards,” explained Br. Wander in the garden. Their mission? Welcoming pilgrims. “In September and October, we celebrated about 11 masses a day; in January, we were having two, one or no daily masses. It really depends on the month,” continued Br. Wander once again. “The door is always closed for safety reasons, but just knock!” Knock and the door will be opened, to quote the Gospel. During a usual visit, pilgrims who are passing through are able to attend mass, take a bathroom break, take photos, and take a stroll in the garden, explained the friar.
To better accommodate the pilgrims, a second chapel was built in order to complement the older one, which was restored in the 1980s. The garden was renovated in 2014 (see article http://www.custodia.org/default.asp?id=779&ricerca=cenacle&id_n=27858). Accessible to all, it planned with the goal of creating a movement toward the new chapel with bright windows. A sculpture there commemorates the Eucharist, a water basin reminds us of baptism, and the benches give people the opportunity to stop and pray. The birds, trees and flowers make it a beautiful, peaceful island on Mount Zion, even though it is one of the most sensitive places in Jerusalem.
The Cenacle is located on Mount Zion and the Upper Room, which is referenced in the Gospel, and it is part of the vast property that the Franciscans had acquired in the fourteenth century. In this architectural ensemble, a medieval tradition places the tomb of David, the king of the Jews, in the lower room. The Upper Room was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans after they expelled the Franciscans in the sixteenth century. As is the case in other places in the Holy Land, this is a very unique place about which people are very passionate, to the point that real tensions can develop here. These have been experienced by the friars of the monastery when even the mere sight of their Franciscan habit may incite reactions. Still, the Jewish state seeks to ensure free access to the holy place, even during times of tension, and it provides adequate security for both people and property.
Somewhat isolated, the Little Cenacle is a haven of peace. “All sanctuaries are suffering due to fewer visits from pilgrims. Many people are afraid to come to the Holy Land, but it is one of the safest places in the world!” emphasized Br. Enrique.
And this is also where the Franciscans are ready to welcome pilgrims, using a variety of different languages, as they take care of the holy places.
The Little Cenacle is open from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the morning. It re-opens at 2:30 p.m. and the last mass can be celebrated at 5:00 p.m. in the winter and 6:00 p.m. in the summer.