Dear friends of Magdala
This 11th of May we recall a very special anniversary for Magdala that took place 10 years ago! The blessing by Pope Benedict XVI of the cornerstone of Magdala during his visit to the Holy Land in 2009.
Ever since the project began I had always dreamed that the Pope would be able to bless the cornerstone of Magdala. In December 2008, a delegation from the Vatican arrived to Notre Dame to prepare for the Pontiffs planned visit in May of 2009. During a meeting with the delegation I took the liberty of insinuating that it would be a blessing if the Pope would be able to bless the cornerstone of Magdala. At the time it seemed as if my suggestion passed on without notice. Nonetheless, two weeks later a petition arrived from the Vatican asking for more information about the Magdala Project. Can you believe my amazement and joy as a few weeks later it was confirmed that indeed the Pope would bless the cornerstone during his visit to Notre Dame Center.
You can imagine the preparations, the excitement! We prepared everything in a small meeting room within the Pope John Paul II Auditorium, alongside a gift – a beautiful painting of Jerusalem – that we prepared for the Pope. From his part, the Holy Father, also brought a gift for the Center, a magnificent tabernacle for the Chapel of Notre Dame.
I must admit that this was a wonderfully paternal touch from his Holiness, for it was indeed an extremely exhausting day for him among the many meetings, speeches, official encounters and visits across the Holy Land.
The moment arrived: The Pope blessed the cornerstone with a beautiful simple blessing. I recall he really liked the design of Peter´s boat which was sculpted in rock over the basalt area of the cornerstone. He read attentively the writing in Latin and translated it with various remarks.
Following the rite of blessing I had the opportunity to show Pope Benedict and his companions what the Magdala project was about and where it was located. He followed the explanation with much interest asking some questions along the way… one of these would end up being quite prophetic. He asked, “Father, what do you plan to do if you find archeology on site.” The question caught me slightly by surprise for I had also thought about this but never thought that we would indeed find any. In this regard I attempted to answer him as best as I could between my nerves and excitement, “Your Holiness, we would preserve it.”
Surely enough, on the 27th of July we began the mandatory archaeological excavations prior to beginning construction on the planned pilgrim’s accommodations in Magdala. A few days later walls, vases, and other objects began to surface. It was by mid-August that the Antiquities Authority of Israel told us… “We believe we have found something very important” … in fact something quite extraordinary that would be announced to the world the 13th of September of that year: A first century synagogue in the Galilee, the Magdala Synagogue.
Since then many pilgrims have come to visit Magdala, and many more archeological excavations and restorations have been accomplished. We continue moving ahead with this marvelous project. Furthermore some of our greatest benefactors and supporters have been blessed with joining our Lord in Heaven. We remember them with much affection, care and gratitude.
Time passes and now we remember this wonderful event that took place 10 years ago. We thank from the bottom of our hearts His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, for whom we pray and remember with all our friends, benefactors and volunteers, and of course God for his great gift that he has given us in Magdala.
Sending you a most fraternal greeting and thanking you for your support over these years as we approach the opening of the Magdala Hotel. Please keep us in your prayers.
Fr. Juan María Solana, LC