Franciscans on pilgrimage

An unexpected group of pilgrims traveled across the Holy Land for the last two weeks of November. These 15 Franciscans called to guide future groups of pilgrims took part in an intensive, accelerated training course.

The session was conceived and organized by the Br. Marcelo Cichinelli, who is the head of continuing education, and by the friars who teach at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem. “We are here out of our own initiative because we want to do our best in carrying out our mission. We guide pilgrims and help them better understand the mystery of Revelation and the grace of the holy places in a few days,” said Br. Matteo Brena, the Commissioner of the Holy Land in Tuscany and the leader of the group that is composed of 12 Italian friars, other Holy Land Commissioners, staff and pilgrimage leaders, as well as three friars who began serving the Custody of the Holy Land last year. They use this as an opportunity to deepen their knowledge. “We must first live out the spirituality of the [holy] places before providing spiritual leadership to the groups,” added Br. Wander.

The pilgrims had a full agenda: visits to the holy places, meetings with friars and conferences to better understand the context of what they were seeing. Who are Eastern Rite Catholics? What is the political, social and geographical reality of the region? What has been the history of the Church in the Holy Land since the death of Christ? Why is the Liturgy in holy places different? The answers to these questions are no longer secrets for the participants, as their folders progressively fill up with literature on these topics. Understanding the Custody and its various pastoral, social and educational activities is also one of the goals of this training program. And there is no better way to learn about the Custody than to meet with the friars or lay people who work on the field day in and day out.

“We had also a more technical training related to leading groups,” added Br. Matteo. “For spiritual and historical matters, we can pray and study, but for the rest, experience is the best teacher. We, therefore, stayed at different Israeli, Palestinian hostels, in the Casa Novas. We met the friar in charge of the Christian Information Center, who handles bookings for Casa Nova, and we learned how a pilgrimage agency works, etc.”

Like any group on pilgrimage, most of the religious met when they arrived at the airport.: “All this time together allows us to get to know each other, and to learn more about this land and the work of the Custody. This is very valuable because we are able to share our pilgrimage experiences and talk about future possibilities. All of the people we meet, inspire us with ideas.” Br. Matteo spoke about the ability to bring youth [to the Holy Land] and to give them the opportunity to meet Christian communities and the people involved in helping them build their lives.” And as far as traditional pilgrimages go, we want to try to put those pilgrims more in touch with the charitable activities of the Custody. This allows pilgrims to become more aware of certain realities of life here, and we can encourage people to support these activities.”

The 12 Franciscans will return to Italy, ready to be witnesses to the fact that a strong, spiritual experience can be carried out safely, despite what the media say. They are also ready to share their love of the Holy Land with future pilgrims. There is no doubt that we will see them again very soon!

Hélène Morlet

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