Two important Lenten peregrinations took place between the afternoon of 22nd March and the next morning, when, as tradition has it, the whole of the Franciscan community goes to visit the most important sanctuaries linked to the Passion of Jesus, celebrating the Eucharist together and meditating on the Scriptures in the very places commemorating the events that took place there.
Flagellation, 22nd March
The third peregrination was on Wednesday 22nd March to the Church of the Flagellation. After the Dominus Flevit and Gethsemane, it was the turn of this very popular Sanctuary, where according to Christian tradition, two episodes of the Passion of Jesus took place: the flagellation and the condemnation to death.
The Church of the Flagellation, on Via Dolorosa, just a few dozen yards from St Stephen’s Gate (or the Lions’ Gate), was built by the Crusaders in the 12th century and was then abandoned for several centuries, until it was bought by the Franciscans in 1838 and reopened for worship. Later, in 1929, the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi restored it, keeping the medieval style. Next to the church there is the Chapel of the Condemnation, which was recently in the news because of the serious episode of vandalism on 2nd February earlier this year, when a wooden statue of Jesus was brutally disfigured by an ultra-Orthodox.
There was a large participation in the event by the faithful, pilgrims and all the friars of the Custody, especially of those of the large Franciscan community of the Flagellation, which has been the seat of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum since 1923. The Holy Mass, preceded by the prayer of Vespers, was presided by fr. Giuseppe Maria Gaffurini, Guardian of the Flagellation: alongside him, fr. Alessandro Coniglio, a lecturer at the Studium Biblicum, who is guiding the meditations during Lent through his reflections on the Scriptures (here is the complete page with his reflections) and fr. Piermarco Luciano, vicar of the fraternity of St Saviour in Jerusalem and deputy master of the Theological Hall of Residence. For the participants who could not find a place in the small sanctuary, full of people, some benches were placed outside the church, in the cloister in front of the entrance.
In his homily, Fr. Conoglio invited worshippers to reflect on the fate of those who believe in God: “Approaching God means suffering the same passion,” fr. Alessandro emphasized. The very same place where we remember the trial of Jesus of Nazareth by Pontius Pilate, reminds us that “When God entered the world for good to save the world from drowning, the world drastically rejected this liberating action by God [...] And never as in the times we are living, has this negation of God, this rejection and this opposition to Him, seemed so strong and violent.”
Bethania, 23rd March
The next day, Thursday 23rd March in the very early morning, as per tradition in the fourth week of Lent, there was the fourth peregrination to Bethania, the village where we remember the “friends of Jesus” – Martha, Mary and Lazarus - and where two important moments in his life took place: the resurrection of Lazarus and when he was perfumed with nard by Mary.
Fr. Alberto Joan Pari, Secretary of the Custody, celebrated a first mass inside Lazarus’ tomb. The local community was then able to take part in the second Eucharistic celebration, presided by the Commissary of the Holy Land fr. Gabrijel Bosnjak in the Sanctuary rebuilt by the architect Antonio Barluzzi between 1952 and 1953 above the archaeological excavations conducted in 1949.
“This peregrination to Bethania seems to interrupt the climate of Lent and already seems to introduce us to the light of Easter. Everything in today’s readings speaks about life and resurrection,” commented Fr. Alessandro Coniglio in his reflection, at the end of the proclamation of the Gospel on the resurrection of Lazarus. And he underlined how the central theme of the reading is faith. “the only possibility of looking beyond death is given by faith. The word of Jesus is the only one capable of opening tombs to let out the dead, but the condition required of us to enjoy this gift is twofold: to let us be loved by Jesus and to believe in him!”
The community then went to the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives to end at the Church of the Pater Noster, known as the Sanctuary of the Eleona, the building of Byzantine worship dating back to the 4th century, the remains of which are next to the Church. Here the faithful concluded the fourth peregrination listening to the Gospel of the place, that of the Lord’s Prayer.