Remembering Syrian Fr. Castellana in Agrigento

Agrigento remembers Fr. Pasquale Castellana, of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and archaeologist in Syria. It did so at the conference that took place on Wednesday, September 28, at the Casa San Filippo in the Valley of the Temples. The friar, a native of the province of Agrigento who died in 2012 at the age of 90, had arrived in the Holy Land when he was sixteen, before being ordained a priest and working in Syria as a scholar, educator, pastor and columnist at various monasteries belonging to the Custody in Latakia, Aleppo, Knaye, Jacoubieh and Gassanieh. For his research and publications, which he authored with Br. Ignatius Peña and Fr. Romualdo Fernández, he has been considered among the most authoritative experts of Christian antiquity in those territories.

The event was also an opportunity to reflect on the current situation in Syria and on the condition of the country’s cultural heritage. Maria Serena Rizzo, the organizer of the conference, explains: “We wanted to bring together two aspects: the memory of a man, whose having come from our land honors us and the ideal embracing of the Syrian people, whose priceless archaeological heritage had been protected and has now been destroyed, along with many other aspects of their lives.” Among the participants were the Archbishop of Agrigento, Card. Francesco Montenegro, Fr. Sergio Galdi, Commissioner of the Holy Land, and some of Fr. Castellana’s family members.

The reproduction of the friar’s image was entrusted to Fr. Claudio Bottini, Dean of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Dr. Carmelo Pappalardo, of the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology, and to Dr. Widad Al Khoury, of the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities, who worked with Castellana for years. The speech by Fayrouz al-Asaad, daughter of Khaled al-Asaad, the Director of the Palmyra Antiquities, who was murdered by Isis, was however, a very powerful, emotional story of the plight of the Syrian people.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria, sent out a call, so that everyone can be aware of what is happening in Syria and so that they may strive to stop the destruction that is taking place. “Fr. Castellana’s choice to make real inventories of these items, accompanied by photographs and scientific blueprints, seemed to us as somewhat prophetic, said Dr. Rizzo. Witnesses have spoken to us about a sort of frenzy, or rush, that Fr. Castellano had to complete these inventories, as if he had sensed that danger was approaching ever more closely.

How could we allow Fr. Castellana’s commitment to be lost? This was also a topic at the conference, expressing the hope that Syrian churches, as well as Syrian archaeological heritage, will continue to be studied and that the friar’s writings will continue to be spread. “There is the will on our part not to turn off the light that we shed on this situation. We hope to carry this out with additional events,” concluded Maria Serena Rizzo.

Beatrice Guarrera

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