The Covid-19 pandemic has not suspended only the flow of pilgrims to the Holy Land: since about 2005, there have also been small groups of men and women who have constantly visited the places where Jesus lived, with the desire to offer their service in the places where there was most need. Over time these people, united by their common experience in the Communion and Liberation Movement, decided to “institutionalize” their visits and found an association that would promote this virtuous practice. This is how the “Romano Gelmini Association for the peoples of the Holy Land” came into being, which aims to bring members of the association, organized in small groups, to do voluntary work for a few days in the holy places of Christianity.
Their invaluable visits were suspended with the start of the pandemic, which no longer allowed anybody to enter the country from abroad. After two years of absence, however, the first group of volunteershas recently returned to the country, guests of the guardian Fr. Sergey Ioktionov, ofm, at the Ain Karem shrine.
Over the years, the members of the Romano GelminiAssociation have developed a special relationship with the Custody of the Holy Land, due to their particular spirituality and the various types of skills they offer. The particular professional flexibility of the volunteers has been expressed in different places and ways: at first the services aimed to give support to the healthcare personnel of the hospital in Nazareth; then their voluntary work was extended to the many different placed in the rest of the Holy Land, in numerous and different activities such as land reclamation, repairing electrical cabinets and plumbing circuits, organizing the stores of the Custody’s Museum as well as the archive and the cataloguing of its assets.
On Thursday 24 March, the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, went to Ain Karem to pay tribute to this first group of volunteers of 2022, engaged in tidying up the gardens and pruning the olive trees.
Here, the Custos met and got to know the volunteers, he spoke to them, celebrated mass and shared lunch with them.
In his homily, Fr. Patton insisted on the topical nature of the presence of the Lord in our lives in a real and concrete way: "everything that Jesus does and that is told to us in the Gospels, is a way to make us understand that the Kingdom of God has come, i.e. that God is not far from us but close, in our midst; he has entered our story and our lives and wants to transform it for the better. If we take note of all the miracles of healing in the Gospels, we will note that they are all signs that prove how God makes us totally free and totally human beings […] God’s Kingdom is not something that is about afterwards, the Kingdom of God is Jesus Christ in our lives, in our story. We do not want to be like the scribes and the Pharisees who do not recognize what Jesus does, but on the contrary we want to open ourselves up to his gift and invoke him.
The homily was all the more punctual considering the singular experience that this small, but hard-working group of men and women from different parts of Italy are having here. They include Giovanni, visibly moved by his return to the Holy Land, who told us of the story of the Gelmini Association and the practical way with which their bring public Christians is expressed: "We are different people who together become a family. We share a common education and the teachings of Don Giussani, who urged people to love Christ and the Church. The Church has different faces and we are here now to show you how this friendship and this experience are one of those faces. We live, having as an objective the Christian experience in the environment where we live, giving our testimony of Christa in everything we do. Here we offer our skills to the service of the Custody and of the Church in general, because over time we have matured a special relationship with the Holy Land and returning here is a blessing.”
Filippo De Grazia