To many people around the world the designation “Middle East” has come to represent a perpetual war zone, where open conflict is as common as its causes are entrenched, and, apparently, unresolvable.
Most intractable of all the conflicts is the one fracturing what Christians call the Holy Land, which encompasses Israel and, within it, the Palestinian National Authority. Here, communities of the three monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and other religious traditions live, often uneasily, together, all regarding Jerusalem as their Holy City.
But even in the middle of tension and conflict works of peace break out, and one of these is a project called Saxum, a conference and multimedia centre which will serve Christian pilgrims and others interested in the religious places and culture of the Holy Land. Local people of different faiths have been working together on the site, building religious tolerance at the same time.
The Catholic initiative is an act of faith in the future of the Holy Land as a place where Christians will always find a home, living with those of other faiths in peace and co-operation.
Saxum is located at Abu Gosh, a village between Jerusalem and Emmaus Nicopolis that was formerly the town of Kiriath Yearim; here, according to the Book of Samuel, the Ark of the Covenant dwelt. The project bears the familiar name given to Bishop (now Blessed) Alvaro del Portillo by the founder of Opus Dei, Saint Josemaria Escriva, whom he succeeded as the head of the institution. Saxum is a Latin word for “rock”, and Blessed Alvaro earned the nickname during decades of service to Opus Dei and the wider Church.
It was his dream that such a centre would be developed to facilitate a deep encounter between pilgrims and their Lord, in the same way as two disciples encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus. He himself visited the Holy Land just before he died, in 1994. The same year the decision was taken to build a conference centre in his memory, and the following year the search began for a site. Construction began in 2013 and the buildings are nearing completion.
A worldwide fundraising drive to raise US$60 million for the project has brought donations from more than 100,000 people in more than 50 countries. It has also seen many creative efforts, such as the colouring book biography of Blessed Alvaro promoted in the video below. The brainwave of a group of Canadian students, it will be published electronically (in August) allowing purhcasers to print off copies and distribute them. (Pre-ordering of the $20 book is essential and open until June 23rd.)
A fundraising idea from Canada
The Saxum Conference Centre will not only offer pilgrims peaceful surroundings (including two chapels); it will also provide an opportunity for the training and professional development of women living locally who want to improve and expand their professional hospitality skills.
The Multimedia Resource Centre, which includes a model of Jerusalem and videos about the Holy Land, will provide pilgrims with an orientation and information. Importantly, it will also contribute to the education of tour guides.
The Saxum website explains:
The audio-visual materials of the resource center and the courses for tour guides will be organized by Polis – The Jerusalem Institute for Languages and Humanities — which is a world-wide institute of higher education. By focusing on the humanities, it seeks to rediscover the sources of Western culture through a revitalization of the ancient languages.
Polis and Saxum are working together to develop the entire contents of the Multimedia Resource Center. In Polis, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Druze work together. This spirit of cooperation will permeate all the activities of the Saxum project.”
Another initiative of the Saxum Foundation is the extension of an existing pilgrim trail linking Abu Gosh and Jerusalem, in co-operation with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and the Jewish National Fund (KKL). Starting with a briefing at the Saxum Multimedia Centre, the route will take pilgrims along the rest of the “way to Emmaus”, giving them an opportunity to reflect on their pilgrimage before leaving the Holy Land.
* For more information visit: www.saxum.org
* View the video for information about ordering the electronic book, Both Sheep and Shepherd: The Courage of Blessed Alvaro. Pre-ordering closes on June 23, 2016.