“This place speaks to History”: the Romitaggio of Gethsemane

“This place speaks to History”: the Romitaggio of Gethsemane

“A holy place dedicated exclusively to prayer” can be read on the plaque next to the gate that opens into the Romitaggio of Gethsemane, in Jerusalem. We are at the beginning of the ascent of the Mount of Olives. Just a little above the Basilica of the Agony, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land have reserved a part of the Olive Grove for prayer in solitude, like that of Jesus on the night of Holy Thursday. More than a project, the Romitaggio was an intuition of Father Giorgio Colombini, who from the early 1980s devoted himself to accompanying guests on their path of prayer. He was succeeded as person in charge by fra Diego Dalla Gassa, who belongs to the Franciscan community of Gethsemane and has taken care of this place for over 12 years.

With those who suffer

“The Lord lives his suffering here,” said fra Diego. Since then ithas been a place where every man and every woman touched by suffering are reached by Christ.” Even today, with war only a few miles away, a strong message comes from Gethsemane: “This place speaks to History, There are many “Gethsemanes” outside here, but each of them has to be enlightened by the gaze of Jesus.” Many times,” fra Diego reflected, “we feel powerless. Uet we live what St Paul says in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12,26). ‘If [one]part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, but also ‘if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy.’ In other words: my life and my efforts can become a prayer, which put into the hands of God becomes a consolation for those who need it, and therefore all the body rejoices in it. This is the strength of the prayer of intercession.”

Life at Romitaggio

Over the last few weeks, life at the Romitaggio has not changed, but “we have intensified our prayers. We are supportive of every man and woman who suffers, with those who have been deceived by Evil. We are called to stand under the cross and live a presence. We are here under the cross to intercede, to pray, to ask God for pity for those who are suffering.” The days begin with Mass at 6.30 a.m. in the basilica, together with the Franciscan community. After this, fra Diego conducts the Lectio Divina and dedicates himself to the people who ask for his accompaniment in prayer, as well as looking after the upkeep of this place. From 5.30 p.m., the fraternity of the Romitaggio, together with the guests who so wish, meet for Vespers, silent adoration and Mass.

Those who wish can spend  a few days of retreat and prayer at the Romitaggio, immersed in silence. At the moment there are 9 “hermitages” which can each accommodate 1 or 2 people. A community of faithful has also formed around the Romitaggio and, through their website, they continue to keep informed, support this place and join in the prayer of the Holy Hour. “We have more than 1,200 members,” said fra Diego, “like filling three Basilicas of Gethsemane. These 1,200 people, every Thursday -  the day when Jesus prayed here at Gethsemane and when he asked the Apostles to watch over him – are committed to praying the Holy Hour, in a spiritual union with this place. The origins of this devotion date back to an apparition of Jesus to St Margherita Maria Alacoque, in which he shared with her the sadness and anguish he had felt in the night at Gethsemane.

In the darkness, with the Lord

The Romitaggio is continuing its mission now as well: “Remain in prayer and watch what is happening with the eyes of God. The Lord asks us to stay inside this darkness, inside this struggle which turns sweat into blood, but next to him. He tells us not to go alone into the dark, but with Him, who has already defeated this evil.”

Marinella Bandini