Why Christians Should Continue to Study in the Holy Land

Interview with New Dean of Biblical Institute in Jerusalem

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JERUSALEM, MARCH 27, 2002 (ZENIT.org-Fides).- The Franciscans´ Studium Biblicum, now the School of Biblical Sciences and Archaeology, is a point of reference for anyone wishing to study sacred Scripture.



It now has a new dean: Father Giovanni Claudio Bottini, who has been in Jerusalem since 1977. Here the Italian priest explained the function of this institution.

Q: You are taking up your post at a special moment. To what degree can the study of the roots of Christianity help the Holy Land find peace?

Father Bottini: We also wonder what we can do to help Israelis and Palestinians reconcile in justice and peace. Seemingly little, because the game appears to be in the hands of politicians.

In fact, we also make efforts to offer our contribution at the human and academic level. In the monastery next to the Studium, we, a group of professors and students, live together; some 30 people from a dozen countries.

This is already a small testimony of peaceful and fruitful coexistence in a land of exasperated nationalisms. We maintain relations of cooperation with numerous Israeli scholars and archaeologists, and also with several Palestinians.

We discover and point out to people that the past in these regions is not marked by clashes and conflicts only. We have also organized three symposiums with Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars on questions related to our common roots of faith.

Q: Who studies in the Studium and why?

Father Bottini: In the main, priests come who are preparing to be professors of sacred Scripture in seminaries and theology faculties. Over the last few years, the presence of the laity and women has increased. Although the number is not high, they represent all the continents.

Special importance is given in our school to the study of languages and prolonged contact with the environment that gave birth to the Bible. It is not a secondary issue that Judaism with its rites and institutions is a highly visible living reality. The same must be said of the different Eastern Churches present in Jerusalem.

Q: Why is it still important for the Church of today to continue studying the places where Jesus lived?

Father Bottini: Today, perhaps, more than yesterday, [it is important] so that Christianity is not confused in the "market of the sacred" with a way of learning, a philosophy of life. Christianity is an event with a precise place in history and geography.

To study sacred Scripture in the Holy Land is to seek the traces of that event which is the incarnation of the Son of God in Mary of Nazareth. Study carried out in biblical lands leads almost spontaneously to contact with the millenary and monumental literary tradition of the ancient Middle East, with its civilization extending from Mesopotamia to Egypt.

Q: You have been living in Jerusalem for a long time. Have you seen any change in the relations between Christians of the Holy Land?

Father Bottini: I have seen with joy the growth, at least up until a year and a half ago, of the crowds of Christian pilgrims who were returning, with enthusiasm and benefit, to the sources of faith and the roots of the Church.

Sadly, I am also a witness to the exodus of many Christians who have suffered the instability of the social and political situation, and who are victims of a weak Christian identity. They know little about their own past; they do not have a profound connection with biblical and Christian memories of their land. It is something that makes one suffer.

Q: Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, coincides again with the Jewish Passover.

Father Bottini: It reminds us of the historical and spiritual context that the texts of our faith have preserved. The accounts of the supper in which Jesus instituted the Eucharist in the signs of bread and wine, are linked to the paschal supper, which the Jews still celebrate today with faithfulness and fervor. Many of them have also come this year from all parts of the world to celebrate "Pesach" in Jerusalem. The Messiah they await, we celebrate as present among us.

Q: On Good Friday, Catholics worldwide are asked to be especially generous with the Holy Land. What would you say to those Catholics?

Father Bottini: That Jesus Christ died on the cross to make all men and women of the world one single family reconciled with God and among themselves, and he remains until this is fully realized. But also that he is the Living One; he has inscribed in humanity an irresistible leaven of resurrection and life, entrusted to the Church and to each one of us.