Italian President Sergio Mattarella visited Israel and the Holy Places, for the first time since he became Head of State. On the morning of October 31, he went to the Holy Sepulcher with his daughter, surrounded by numerous bodyguards and his staff. The President’s visit began with a stop in front of the Stone of Anointing. Guided by Fr. Eugenio Alliatas, the archaeologist of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, the group then continued toward the Edicule of the Holy Sepulcher, which had been closed up until a few days ago due to construction work. The visits that followed were Jesus’ Tomb, the Catholicon and the Chapel of the Crucifixion. At the conclusion of the visit, Sergio Mattarella was greeted on his way out by a spontaneous choir of Italians who sang the national anthem, as a way of celebrating their President.
On the other hand, November 1 was dedicated to visiting Bethlehem. Mattarella was met outside of the Church of the Nativity by the religious authorities and the Mayor of Bethlehem. After a short visit to the Basilica, the President of the Italian Republic and the Italian delegation descended to the grotto to attend a mass celebrated by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton. In his homily, the Custos spoke about the Feast of All Saints and about hardships in Italy and the world, remembering the earthquake victims, as well as the victims of the economic crisis and wars. Right in the Messiah’s birthplace, the Custos said that Jesus, making himself a child, taught us that we should not be afraid of him. After the mass, a mother of pearl creche was gifted to President Mattarella by the Custody of the Holy Land. The Italian delegation was then led by the head of the basilica’s restoration work, Marcello Piacenti, to visit the Crusader-era mosaics. Piacenti described the structure of the mosaics, the work that was carried out and the similarities with works in Sicily, since the president is of Sicilian origin.
Fr. Eugenio Alliata, who accompanied Mattarella during his visits to the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity, said: “I told the President about the newest developments and recent discoveries, and also about the work that is currently being carried out. I explained, for example, that the work at the Holy Sepulcher is focused on restoration, so as to preserve the holy place’s religious, traditional and ancient environment. This is one thing that he very much appreciated.” After the seeing the mosaics, the Custos of the Holy Land gave each member of the delegation a special rosary made from olive seeds from Gethsemane. Mattarella chose to write a sentence in the guest book in his own handwriting: “With admiration for the extraordinary beauty of the mosaics that were uncovered and with gratitude for the long history of the Franciscans in Bethlehem.”
Since he arrived in Israel, on October 30, Mattarella participated in a series of events, such as his visit to the Holocaust Museum, a lecture for the opening of the school year at Hebrew University and a visit to the Italian synagogue. Two significant moments of his trip were his meeting with Israeli President Rivlin on October 31 and then on November 1 with Palestinian President Abbas.
Arianna Poletti e Beatrice Guarrera» custodia.org