A hermitage in the heart of the city

Seeing this garden is a must ; you can stroll through it, smell the jasmine, sit and pray. You can admire the walls of Jerusalem and the Kidron Valley. You can cross the path of a Franciscan, Bible in hand, while making a turn around a boulder. You can rest in the shade of an olive tree on a hot sunny afternoon, or follow a hedgehog while the sun sets behind the city, and imagine Jesus praying in the same place, choosing to do the will of His Father and to give His life for mankind.

Located at the foot of the Mount of Olives, behind the Basilica in Gethsemane, the Romitaggio is a hermitage that the Franciscans make available to those wishing to take a break, in silence and prayer.
Br. Diego Romitaggio, OFM, has been in charge of the Romitaggio for four years. For the last three years, he has been assisted by Teresa Penta, a consecrated lay woman from the “Oasis of Peace” Italian Marian community. One male or female volunteer regularly helps them. They succeeded Br. Giorgio Colombini, OFM, who founded the hermitage in the 1980s, and who in turn was assisted by Daria Severgnini for 17 years. Teresa would answer the question “What do you do exactly?” laughingly: “We try to be hermits! In reality, we do everything so that our guests can live out a quality hermitage experience.”

Together they care for this garden, the hermitage and its visitors, at the very place where Jesus invited his disciples to pray with him: “Remain here and keep watch with me (...) Watch and pray that you do not undergo the test” (Mt 26: 38.41). Br. Diego knows every plant in this garden and the way he talks about them shows us how much he cares about them. Along with Teresa, he minutely take care of the maintenance and management of the Romitaggio in order to offer guests the most beautiful possible encounter with Christ, in an atmosphere of silence, beauty and prayer. This warm welcome in this mystical place brings tranquility and peace to those who make a stop here for a few days.

The Romitaggio’s “brotherhood” is different than the Franciscan friar community at the Gethsemane Monastery. “We are independent but we are not cut off from the community,” said the Br. Diego. “I am part of it, but as head of the hermitage, I live at the Romitaggio. So, I make the connection between the two.” In addition to daily mass, certain celebrations, meals, prayers or meditations, are shared with the community. “This allows hermits to breathe the spirit of the Franciscan family,” he added.

The Romitaggio has nine available chapels. It caters to both small groups (max. 15 people) and individuals, both religious and secular, coming from the Holy Land and elsewhere, but 65 percent of them are of Italian nationality because of the Custody’s ties to Italy. The months of November, January and February are the quietest, but this does not prevent there from being a continued presence in this holy place.

“We try to welcome people in Franciscan simplicity, but so that they feel at home,” explained Br. Diego. Each hermitage is independent and includes a small kitchen, bathroom, desk and bed. The garden, the chapel and a small library are available to guests who must bring their own food. “Everyone cooks and eats alone because they are cooking and eating with Christ. I often say that if we want to hear Jesus’ voice, we need to silence all other voices, and thus spend time in silence,” continued Br. Diego. “Some people want to come here and act as if they were at a hotel, but it is not possible. This is a holy place, one of the few to offer special visits for prayer, since that is what Christ asked for,” Teresa summarized.

Spiritual support is offered, as well as the sacrament of reconciliation. Br. Diego speaks Italian and English, and the diverse backgrounds of the friars at the monastery in Gethsemane gives visitors the possibility to speak with a priest in Spanish, Arabic, German, Portuguese, Polish, etc. “We offer people to share our day that is organized as follows: 6 a.m., morning prayer and mass, followed by the lectio divina at 8 a.m., or the reading the Word of God. The morning is devoted to personal prayer or work in the garden, for example. At 5:30 p.m. worship takes place in the Romitaggio’s chapel and continues with vespers at 6:30 p.m.

What are you waiting for? Come, keep watch and pray at the Romitaggio.

The Romitaggio’s website: http://www.romitaggio.custodia.org/

Hélène Morlet