Before the face of suffering Jesus: His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Scola celebrates Holy Mass at Gethsemane | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Before the face of suffering Jesus: His Eminence Angelo Cardinal
Scola celebrates Holy Mass at Gethsemane

Jerusalem, Basilica of the Agony at Gethsemane, November 11, 2011

An almost summery sunny day welcomed H.E. Cardinal Angelo Scola when he arrived in the late morning at the orchard of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives, for the celebration of Holy Mass at the Basilica of the Agony. Against the splendid backdrop of the Franciscan garden, with its centuries-old olive trees protected and tended for many long years by the friars who live here and look after this holy place, Cardinal Scola arrived in the midst of countless groups of pilgrims and visitors from all over the world, accompanied by his secretary and some other priests and, with his open and radiant smile, immediately won affection of all. Nominated Archbishop of the Diocese of Milan and few months ago, where he officially took office last September, Cardinal Scola is leading a diocesan pilgrimage in the Holy Land from November 5-12, with members from numerous parishes of the Patriarchate of Venice where he held office for almost ten years. After visiting Bethlehem yesterday and celebrating Holy Mass in the evening in the Basilica of the Nativity, the Cardinal came today to preside the liturgy at Gethsemane, one of the most important places in the story of Jesus and in the life of every Christian. More than 300 pilgrims from the Venetian Church who are taking part in the diocesan trip were waiting for him in the Basilica, together with religious from various male and female communities in the Holy Land and many other groups that wanted to join in the celebration. In the Basilica, still cloaked in the semi-darkness of its violet stained glass windows that induce profound meditation, the hundreds of people filling the naves were as though enraptured in a special atmosphere, shared between feelings of moving participation in the passion of Christ, which started here so dramatically, and feelings of intimate gratitude for being united here in this place in the presence of Cardinal Scola.

With a long procession, the many con celebrants, including several members of the local Franciscan community, the priests promoting the diocesan pilgrimage and who arrived in Jerusalem with the Cardinal and a number of priests belonging to other religious families in the Holy Land, found their place at the altar, around the rock of Jesus’ agony, protected by the low wrought iron railing that encircles it. The celebration, animated by a lot of singing, retraced, in an atmosphere of intense devotion and participation, the moving mystery of the Passion, through the song of the servant of the Lord (Isaiah 53,2-12) and the evangelical passage of the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane (Matthew 26,36-46). In his homily, Cardinal Scola delicately, and at the same time very firmly, recalled the priceless value of this very holy place. “If we were really aware of what happened here, of how that event is decisive for our life and our salvation, we would stay here in silence and overcome by such a donation, made even more inconceivable because it takes the shape of a colossal injustice perpetrated against He who is completely holy and innocent.” Yet Jesus knows our fragility, sees our distraction and our incomprehension in the face of his anguish, knows that we are “lost like a flock”, that each of us, although within a living Church, very often “follows his own path”. The real challenge, in front of this rock where Jesus cried and sweated blood, consists of truly discovering that our life is concealed in Christ in the Baptism, that we are already living in the passage towards eternal life and that our life consists in reality of the act of the resurrection. While we are in this impressively convincing place, we learn to recognize who paid and what this immense gift of resurrection cost and we are called on to pronounce our “yes”, to place ourselves definitively and boldly with the Lord on the path of the gift of the self, accepting the sacrifice and recognizing that sin is the most present amongst human evils and miseries. It is in this extraordinary place that we understand the truth of the evangelical statement: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16,25), because this is where Jesus revealed “how” to give life in full, through the greatness of His mercy which takes on itself the sin of man, and “to whom” to give the gift of life, namely to the Father, in a relationship of love and obedience. “In offering our life,” continued Cardinal Scola, “we also meet the face of the loved person, the gaze of the crucified, the face of Jesus bent over the rock of Gethsemane and beaded with blood, which is the disfigured face of every man in an ordeal, especially those of brothers in the faith, up to the ones closest to us in time, like Father Fausto Tentorio, missionary of the PIME, killed less than a month ago in his parish in the south of the Philippines.” This is because opening up to the gift of self always has a community and ecclesiastical vocation as well, where loving thy neighbour must truly be “getting close” to the other, discovering the other as a companion along the same path, taking part in his life, sharing beyond every distance opening up to the reciprocal revelation and enrichment, reciprocal human growth, on the path of fraternal communion and communion with God.

At the end of the Holy Mass, as the long line of priests left the Church in procession, Cardinal Scola stopped for a moment, alone, in front of the rock of agony which is at the foot of the altar, before joining the others. A brief but very intense instant, perhaps the most moving image of this celebration, the figure of a man contemplating in his heart the face of a God who, for immense love, became close and suffering and with this choice, on this stone, changed the history of mankind.

We met Cardinal Scola again in the Franciscan garden next to the Basilica, in the midst of the ancient gnarled olive trees, for a last greeting and his message to the Holy Land and the people who live there. “This land,” the Cardinal told us, “is the emblem of the passion of Jesus, it seems condemned to a perennial Good Friday. Yet, we have to look with hope to the history of the peoples who live in these places and work to build up peace that is founded on love, justice and truth. In this sense, the presence of Christians is fundamental and, if they can really root their lifestyle in Christ, they will truly become builders of peace. As in many other places where they are a minority, the Christians can bring unexpected fruits. Even when it seems crushed or in difficulty, a minority that has the courage of frankness in humility, as shown by the martyrs, can represent an essential factor in helping harmony and the search for relations of justice, even though we do not know when they will blossom. Peace will take us by surprise, like a dawn of hope for the whole of humanity.”

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Marco Gavasso