International Conference for the Commissioners of the Holy Land: Br. Matteo Brena

From November 26 to December 2, St. Savior’s Monastery in Jerusalem will host the 4th International Conference for the Commissioners of the Holy Land. For this occasion, several Commissioners told us about their experience of being “bridges between the Custody of the Holy Land and local Christians” in the land in which they carry out this mission.

The conference, entitled “Pastoral Care for the Pilgrimage: welcome, memory, evangelization,” will be followed by different speeches by important people from the ecclesiastical world as well as direct accounts by the Commissioners’ experiences. Then there will be a time dedicated to guided tours in some places: Samaria, the Dome of the Rock and the Herodion.

On Sunday, December 2, the celebration of the beginning of Advent at the Church of St. Catherine at Nativitatem in Bethlehem, will mark the end of the conference.

A brief presentation.

My name is Br. Matteo Brena. I was born in 1980 in the province of Bergamo and grew up near Milan. I graduated with a degree in Advertising and Graphic Design and in the restoration of wooden polychromes.

Currently I live in the Monastery of Pisa, at the Youth Ministry Center for the Province of St. Francis of the Stigmata, where I serve as Commissioner of the Holy Land.

In your personal history, what connects you to the Holy Land?
My vocation came about by frequently visiting the Sanctuary of La Verna, the place of Francis’ stigmata that today is referred to as the Franciscan Calvary. That mystery of love and suffering that Francis accepted in his flesh as the signs of passion cannot be fully understood without having experienced the Fifth Gospel.

I understood this in 2009 when I had the grace of experiencing Holy Week in Jerusalem with my fellow students.

How long has the Commissariat that you represent been around?

The Commissariat of the Holy Land of Tuscany has existed since the early 1600s. Its deep connections with the Holy Land date back to 1500 when Thomas of Florence, who, after returning from Cyprus and Jerusalem, built the famous Calvary of St. Vivaldo in the Florentine countryside.

After three centuries of presence at the Monastery of Livorno, which was destroyed in World War II, the Commissariat was based in Pistoia until the 1990s. Currently, the offices of the Commissariat are at the Monastery of St. Savior at the Monte alle Croci in Florence, the Center for Evangelization and Missions for the province. This historic retreat center is where St. Leonard of Porto Maurizio, the creator and propagator of the practice of the Via Crucis, who gave passionate sermons and attracted thousands of people.

What does it mean for you to be a “bridge between the Holy Land and Christians” in this land?

Being bridges between the complex, multifaceted Land of Jesus and the Tuscan Christian communities is a great challenge that requires a lot of energy. In short, for me it is an experience of evangelization, relationship and communion. I feel like "being a bridge" is in complete harmony with the Franciscan charism. Meeting, listening and sharing are the key words of this mission.

How do you practically carry out being a bridge?

It is characterized by the traditional activities of the Commisariat, like hosting the Pro Terra Sancta days and offering pilgrimages, which in addition to visiting the holy places always include an encounter with the local reality or the reality of the Custody.

Clearly in a secularized context such as Tuscany it is necessary to continuously find new ways to create encounters with realities that are also far from ecclesial contexts. This happens through informational gatherings about the lives of the Christians of the Holy Land at universities and high schools and also through artistic events that aim to spread and also financially support the work of the Custody of the Holy Land.