Dear friends, permit me to welcome you with the greeting so dear to Saint Francis: “May the Lord give you peace!”
Gethsemane is one of the most important sanctuaries in the Holy Land. As I have recalled recently, this is a place of prayer, of violence and of reconciliation. It is a place of prayer because here Jesus would come to pray and it is the place where he also prayed after the last supper with his disciples just before he was arrested. In this place millions of pilgrims every year stop to pray in order to learn and to place their will in tune with the will of God. This is also a place of violence, since here Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Finally, it is a place of reconciliation, because here Jesus refused to make use of violence in order to react to his unjust arrest. This has also been a place of reconciliation among the nations who fought during the First World
War and who wanted to contribute to build this modern basilica which, for this reason, is aptly known by the name of “Church of the Nations.”
The recent archaeological excavations conducted on this site by the Ministry of Jewish Antiquities in collaboration with the Professors of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum confirm the ancient nature of the Christian memory and tradition linked with this site. As I have stated on other occasions, we are not afraid to dig, and we should not be afraid to excavate, because the search for truth, be it archaeological, scientific or religious, necessarily demands courage and constancy to dig deep: in a terrain, within the laws of nature, in libraries, in one’s own soul.
Lastly, I would like to greet with great joy the fruitful collaboration between the Custody of the Holy Land, the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
As Custody of the Holy Land, which is the historical development of the Franciscan presence that knows its beginnings here in 1217, along the centuries we have sought to protect and to preserve places that have a Biblical and Christian significance. It is thanks to the prudent protection of these sites along the centuries, that it is still possible today to organise excavation campaigns in those sites which lie within our property.
The same Studium Biblicum Franciscanum was born around 100 years ago within the same Custody. It was a time when biblical and archaeological studies were making great strides forward in quality, because they were adopting the most modern and scientifically qualified methodologies of study and research. These 100 years have witnessed innumerable excavations and publications
under the care of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. The study of the biblical texts has always been intertwined with the deepening of the languages of the Bible and of the Near East, with biblical history and geography, and finally with biblical archaeology. Here I would like to thank this academic institution that is about to celebrate its first century of existence. I would like to thank it in the person of the Dean, Brother and Professor Rosario Pierri. Finally, I would like to thank the Israel Antiquities Authority, which during these last decades has, on its part, given a fundamental contribution to excavations and conservation of sites linked with the Judaeo-Christian tradition of the first centuries. The collaboration between the Custody the SBF and the Israel Antiquities Authority is not new and has already borne fruit of many kinds. I take the opportunity to thank in a special way the persons who have taken care of this excavation campaign, namely Amit Re’em and David Yeger. I hope that this same collaboration will continue to be fruitful also in the future.
I congratulate all for the results of the excavation and for the findings that have come to light, and I now leave the floor to the competent experts who will illustrate the contents of the findings.