Dear Friends, for all of you that couldn’t be here today with us, we know you were united in prayer and perhaps through our livestream. We want to share Fr. Juan´s words during the ceremony and also a wonderful video prepared for to remember this occasion.
For those of you who missed the inauguration please know it is available here
Speech by Fr. Juan on the Ocassion of the Inauguration of the Magdala Guesthouse.
The Galilee seashore is not just a beautiful place to visit. For Christians, these shores bear witness to the most significant moments of Jesus’ public ministry, stirring up profound spiritual sensitivity in the heart and soul of those who gaze out over the waters with the eyes of faith.
Here, Jesus called his first apostles, saying, “come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Here, Peter also was asked three times, “do you love me more than these?”
On these shores, many people’s perspectives of the world and history were inconceivably broadened, in ways previously unimaginable. This was the case for the townspeople of Magdala – of Tarichaea – who, according to the historian Flavius Josephus, who lived here for a time, exported their fish to the far reaches of the Empire – even to Rome itself.
It was on this same shore, when, on November 16, 2004, I felt inspired by God to build a guesthouse for pilgrims, somewhere near the sea of Galilee. Nothing about archaeology, architecture, art or fundraising crossed my mind back then, but rather this simple idea: establish a place where visitors would experience a warm welcome. The site should be characterized by hospitality, and designed to foster personal encounter and accompaniment. This inner drive began just a week after arriving to the Holy Land. I had been assigned by my superiors to assume the direction of the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, entrusted to the Legionaries of Christ by Pope John Paul II. It seemed to me at the time, that operating a pilgrim center in the Galilee area, would be a natural extension of our work in Jerusalem, and our mission here in the Holy Land.
Several weeks after I began searching for land, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM (then Custos of the Holy Land) gave me a tip about some property on sale in the area of ancient Magdala, a site that had already caught my eye: “Hawaii Beach.” I remember this day very well, it was March 31, 2005, the same day the Domus Galilea library was inaugurated.
From that moment on, I entrusted the Magdala project to St. Joseph of Nazareth. After just a few days, my superior, the late Fr. Alvaro Corcuera, LC, then the Legion of Christ General Director, approved of the idea of starting a pilgrim guesthouse in Galilee. However, he added the following stipulation: “you are personally responsible for the entire undertaking, start to finish.”
As the Church was transitioning from John Paul II’s pontificate to that of Pope Benedict XVI, I embarked on this great adventure, with the conviction that God would bless my efforts to bring this dream to life. From that moment forward, I was led down a fast-paced ‘slalom’ of hectic activity. Days of intense exertion, became weeks, months… and these eventually totaled 15 years: replete with presentations, conferences, trips, and meetings about the vision of Magdala.
For me, all these efforts are now drawing to a close, because Magdala is now entering a new phase. Looking back, I find it impossible to adequately express the gratitude I feel toward those first benefactors of Magdala. We are indebted to you, not just because of your great financial support, but especially because you dared to believe in the dream! Eduardo Sánchez Junco, Roberto Plascencia, Aida Elena Recio, Malena Zapata, Antonino Fernández, Tom Cousins, Scott Follett…. And so many more!
Here in the lobby, you can see the cornerstone that Pope Benedict the XVI blessed during his visit to Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center in 2009, just as we were preparing to break ground in Magdala. The Pope asked me a prophetic question at that time: “what will you do if you find archeology on the site?” We initiated the archeological investigation the following month before beginning construction – as stipulated by Israeli law. Almost immediately, we began to uncover this area of ancient Magdala.
I want to express my gratitude to the Israeli Antiquities Authority, especially the IAA’s late General Director, Shuka Dorfman, and the current General Director, Israel Hasson, both of whom have been a wonderful support and sure guide for our work. We could never have anticipated what Providence had in store for us beneath the bungalows of Hawaii Beach: the ancient town of Magdala, suspended in time, frozen in the second half of the 1st century CE. This is why we dare to describe Magdala as a, “crossroads of Jewish and Christian history.” For the Jewish people, the first century is defined as the important “Second Temple Period”. For Christians, these years encompass the time of Jesus’ life and preaching, and the time when many of his first followers gathered together.
I would also like to thank the Anáhuac University of Mexico, represented here by Rector, Fr. Cipriano Sánchez, LC. Anáhuac University has unconditionally supported our excavation work, providing the staff and equipment necessary for the dig, led by professor and archeologist, Dr. Marcela Zapata-Meza. She directed a team of archeologists and more than 1,000 volunteers over four years, all of whom played an essential role in this work, and whom I would like to publicly recognize on this important day. I think it is valuable to also highlight the accomplishments of some of the other key archeologists who worked on site, particularly those of Dina Gorni, Arfan Najjar, Rosaura Saez, Andrea Díaz and Linda Manzanilla. Thank you also to the many others who were involved in the excavations’ expansion.
Today’s event takes me back to May 28th, 2014, when the Duc In Altum Center and the Magdala Archaeological Park were inaugurated and made open to the public. This coincided with Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land, when he blessed the tabernacle we keep in Duc In Altum. We began to welcome thousands of visitors to the Archeological Park from this date on, while at the same time moving forward with the construction of the pilgrim guesthouse. We also began offering the first programs specific to Magdala’s mission, including several international encounters promoting the dignity of women, courses for inner healing, Magdala Volunteer reunions, spiritual retreats, and ecumenical and inter-religious encounters.
Today’s event also invites me to continue looking forward, when in the near future, we hope to open the Magdala Visitors Center, with modern digital experiences and explanations of the site, its history and its future. Offering pilgrims more economical lodging space through the construction of a second hotel is also one of our immediate goals, in addition to the continued expansion of our Archeological Park. Other events we hope to offer soon include forums promoting in-depth understanding of Judeo-Christian culture and Biblical values for leaders of institutions and groups, as well as gatherings to revitalize their own sense of ministry and mission.
Stepping even further into the future, the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement in the Holy Land are already making plans to mark the occasion of the great Jubilee of the year 2033, celebrating 2000 years of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. With this in mind, we have projects to expand the rooms of the guest house at Notre Dame in Jerusalem, as well as the creation of a new Visitors Center there, within the current Notre Dame auditorium space, focusing on the final days of Jesus’ life, his resurrection and Pentecost.
Speaking about this exciting project also gives me the opportunity to clear up any confusion there may be regarding the ownership of Notre Dame and Magdala. The Pontifical Institute, Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, belongs to the Vatican who entrusted its management to the Legionaries of Christ. Magdala, on the other hand, belongs to our congregation.
I wish to express my gratitude particularly:
- To Our Lord and God who entrusted this project to us during the most challenging years of our institution, guiding it, as the Bible says, “with a strong arm and a powerful hand;”
- To Mary, Joseph and Mary Magdalene, for their constant intercession;
- To the Popes, Nuncios, and Patriarchs of Jerusalem who have been an unwavering help, lending faith and credibility to this project;
- To the many people who have extended their brotherly advice to me through the years, and to those whose professional council were essential to this project’s success, especially as it was taking its first steps forward: Thank you Samir Abu Nassar, Sister Emanuela Verdecchia, Fr. Rino Rossi, Uri Messer and Shlomit Susit.
- To the many workers who labored on the buildings during the progressive phases of construction: Juan Pablo Lankenau, Robert Karam, Rodolfo de la Garza, ECO of México, and Eduardo Guerra; I want to extend a special thanks to the director of Proyeco of Spain, Eduardo Guerrero; and to their on-site leaders, Beatriz Leon, Alex Taboada, Angela Muñoz and Gaby Gonzalez. I want to recognize with deep gratitude their intense and highly professional dedication to the last stages of construction. Thank you also to the many other companies and workers represented here, or personally present with us today.
- It is with warm affection that I also recognize Francesco y Carlo Giardino, architects who volunteered their professional skills almost 13 years ago, creating the first building design for Magdala; thank you Mati Avshalomov: thank you most especially to Raneen, Nassim y Shireen Nakleh for their unique and compelling design of the Duc in Altum Center
- Thank you also to the many artists who have so beautifully communicated the spiritual and cultural richness of Magdala, including the work of Daniel Cariola, Gerardo Zenteno, and Sofia Aspe; And very especially, I would like to highlight the deeply significant contribution, and extraordinary artistry of Chilean María Jesús Ortiz de Fernández and her family, who exquisitely executed the Duc In Altum Center, and the Magdala Pilgrim Guesthouse grounds
- I want to offer my gratitude to the staff of Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, who have offered me their support throughout these years, particularly Notre Dame’s General Manager, Yousef Barakat, for his generosity and unwavering loyalty since 2004.
- I want to recognize the vital help provided by the Ministry of Tourism, who bestowed on us a grant for the development of Magdala, as well as the assistance given by the different Ministers and General Directors over the years.
- Thank you to all our friends and colleagues who are part of the hospitality sector: the many hotel managers, travel agents and guides who have had their eye on Magdala’s development over the years. Thank you!
My dream for Magdala, is that we keep unpacking the gift that God desires to make of it for everyone. I see this beautiful site playing a significant role:
- In unveiling the mystery of ‘the feminine genius’;
- Serving as an ideal location for the proclamation of the Kingdom of God;
- Providing a model for the type of volunteer service that Mary Magdalene and the other women in the Gospel embodied, following and serving Jesus from their own substance. Over the past 10 years, more than 3000 volunteers from all over the world have come here, following in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene, and imitating her style of service
- Fostering dialogue and encounter between different cultures and religions, with great respect for the dignity of each and every visitor to Magdala.
This dream is symbolized by the Boat-altar in Duc In Altum, generously donated to Magdala by Mr. Manual Díaz, who is present with us here today. This Boat-altar represents the Church of Christ, navigating through history, moving forward in faith, hope and love.
To all of our dear benefactors, both living and deceased, to all of you who are able to join us today and those who could not, thank you! The first time I visited Magdala, on the morning of March 31st, 2005, I remember thinking, how will I ever be able to make this a reality, when I don’t have even 5 dollars in my pocket? God reminded me that the great hospitals, schools, cathedrals, universities, seminaries, missions and parishes that have been built throughout the ages, came from you, His Mystical Body. His Divine Providence will bring forth people able to make His desires into realities. God told me that the least of my worries should be money!
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
I try to never forget any of you or your generosity; but if I ever do, be assured that God never forgets. We are in the process of finishing a “Benefactos Avenue” located outside on the pathway leading to Duc In Altum. This will allow visitors to remember and pray for our benefactors. Every contribution is, and has been, valuable. Fr. Damián Reza sent me a small notebook from his parish in Toluca México that I still cherish. Every page contains the name and donation offered to Magdala. The most memorable are those from poor children who gave one or two Mexican pesos. Each one of these pennies are also part of this beautiful building today.
I would like to end by thanking my Legionary brothers, my dear friends in Regnum Christi, and particularly the consecrated women and consecrated lay men of the Movement, who have shown their support, and many of whom have contributed directly to Magdala through their work here in the Holy Land. Your prayers and assistance have sustained me in so many ways through these intense years. I appreciate the warm welcome you have always offered me during trips, as well as for the logistical assistance you have provided.
I know I should probably have mentioned thousands more of you… and I humbly ask your pardon if the time and circumstances of this event have made that impossible. Please be assured that I bring each and every one of you with me to prayer, every day.
I want to thank those friends and benefactors who have gone before us into Heavenly glory, especially my parents, Ángel and Amparo, from whom I received the gift of faith, and an example of unconditional love.
I also extend my personal welcome to all the staff who form part of this new project. I thank them for striving to make this guesthouse exemplary in hospitality, warmth, and respect. I want to recognize our new General Manager of Magdala, Mr. Alon Winter, through whom I offer to all the personnel here, my deepest appreciation. Our motto here at Magdala is the advice that Franciscan Brother, Rafael Dorado shared with me in both word and deed when I first arrived: “Aim to please our visitors in every way possible.”
From the beginning, when I was inspired to begin this journey of faith, I knew this vision and project belonged not to me but to the Lord, and to all those he called to be part of it.
It is with this same convection, filled with trust and profound thanksgiving, that I renew my desire to obediently follow where God leads, and to continue to dedicate myself tirelessly to the needs of the pilgrims of the Holy Land. Now, my heart overflowing with emotion, I hand over the first fruits of this work of God to our General Director who is present here today, Fr. Eduardo Robles Gil, LC.
May God bless you all!
Duc In Altum!