The Convent of the Flagellation in Jerusalem is at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa: thousands of pilgrims go down it every day on their devotional path to the Holy Sepulchre, but today it is a silent and empty street. The traditional Via Crucis, which the Franciscans perform every Friday afternoon, has been suspended for two weeks.
The Guardian of the Franciscan community of the Flagellation, fr. Giuseppe Gaffurini, was able to return to Jerusalem only a few days ago: “I was in Italy at the start of this conflict. I was confused, bewildered, disoriented: as a friar of the Custody, I have chosen to live my mission in this land and I could not find peace until I arrived in Jerusalem.”
At such a traumatic time, what do you feel you can share, as a religious and as a man of faith?
I certainly don’t want to go into a geopolitical analysis, but I am summoned to agree with my faith and my hope. In the past few days, reading the reflections of Adrien Candiard, a Dominican, has been helping me see this dramatic period more clearly, when we religious above all have to avoid two extremes: considering the Gospel as a guiding text not only for our inner life or making it a provision to “put the working of the whole world in line”... The end of the world, in the Gospel, is evoked countless times: can this new war, this umpteenth wave of violence we are living through, be enough to indicate that the end of the world is imminent? But the world has already finished and it finished when it began. The end of the world in already present as a principle that acts in the heart of history: it is not a riddle to solve, but a meaning to accept! Different schools of thought have accustomed us so much to think of history as a form of “progress” that now, orphans of the myth of progress, we would like a divine guarantee that assures us that everything will go for the best... but Jesus never promised us this: alongside the tireless announcement of the Gospel, there is violence-earthquakes-famines-persecutions, all of which are before everyone’s eyes. Love does not always arouse love, on the contrary, often it causes rejection. Love forces us to choose: in front of Jesus in a few minutes the thief repents and Pilate chooses to wash his hands.
Can St Francis be paradigmatic with respect to the times in which he lived, which by no means were less violent that today?
Absolutely yes: there is one episode in this regard that can be enlightening. While the fifth crusade was underway against the Sultan of Egypt and the Frankish troops were besieging Damietta, Francis presents himself to the nephew of Salah ad-Din, Malik al Kamil, and speaks to him of the love of God. The sultan was enraptured by the saint of Assisi but cannot fail to forget that at the same time he has to face the Frankish troops on the battlefield, who in the name of the same God, are devastating the country. “Where is the love of God you speak of in all this?” the Sultan asks Francis. And Francis, sorrowfully, can only answer “Sire, love is not loved: love in this world is always the crucifix.”
Can we believe in the love of God even when the world is the theatre of so much violence?
History flows under the shadow of the Cross and it is naïve to think that its course will change thanks to more sophisticated political and social systems. But the words of Jesus rise over this scene: do not be afraid. Not because he will save the planet, but because he promises new heavens and a new earth, towards the final victory of the project of God, of his design which has been present since the act of creation. Our Patriarch, Pierbattista Pizzaballa reminded us of this again yesterday in his letter to the whole diocese: “ Jesus on the cross starts a new reality and a new order, the reality and the order of the one who gives his life out of love.” We have to remain “vigil”, to learn to see the Kingdom that comes! The greetings of the first Christians was the invitation “Maranatha! May the Lord Jesus come.”
How are you living the daily prayer in your community?
In a very simple way. Every day, as our Father Custos fr. Francesco Patton suggested, in the community of the Flagellation, we are reciting the Rosary of peace, where the five meditated Mysteries have been chosen from an observation by John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae. And next Friday, 27 October, chosen by Pope Francis as a day of fasting, penitence and prayer for peace in the Holy Land, we friars will once again go down the Via Crucis, starting from our sanctuary, to reach St Saviour’s church, where the Custos of the Holy Land will preside over the Prayer Vigil to implore for peace.