The article below is
reprinted from ZENIT, originally published on April 24, 2012.
Rome, Italy --
The March-April issue of the Franciscan Custody´s review "Holy Land,"
which treats of the Holy Places, dedicates much space to
Mary Magdalene and to Magdala. The review states literally that
"a new Holy Place is being born."
Legionary of Christ Father Juan Maria Solana
is the initiator of the Magdala Project, which the Holy
See has put in the charge of the Notre Dame
of Jerusalem Pontifical Institute.
In this interview, Father Solana talks about this place.
ZENIT: What can
you tell us about this reference in "Holy Land"?
Father Solana: In fact,
I was positively surprised by this issue of the review,
and I was pleased that it came out in these
days of Easter, as Mary Magdalene is one of the
important protagonists. If I´m not mistaken, she is mentioned 11
times in the four Gospels in connection with the Passion,
Death and Resurrection of Jesus. I think it´s the case
of an exceptional woman because of the prominence she is
given in the Gospels.
|Father Juan Maria Solana LC|
On the subject that a Holy Place is "being
born," I think it´s partly true and partly not so.
Let me explain: more than a century ago the Franciscan
Fathers acquired a property in Magdala. In the 70s they
undertook important excavations. Then the place was practically abandoned. Only
around 2006 Franciscan Father Stefano de Luca returned to excavate
and work in the said property. In this sense, it´s
not true that this Holy Place is being born. There
is another sense in which it is, however: the Legionaries
of Christ acquired the plots adjacent to the Franciscans and
we initiated the "Magdala Center" project which, God willing, will
open at the end of 2012 in its first phase.
In this sense, it is being born. Moreover, in the
process of this project there have also been numerous novelties
that have brought to light the importance of the place
during Jesus´ life.
ZENIT: We would like you to share with us what
the "Magdala Center" project consists of, and what the novelties
are to which you refer.
Father Solana: The "Magdala Center" project is a
very large project. At times I get scared for having
initiated it, but I think we must trust God. Very
briefly the project consists of the following: it is a
hotel for pilgrims which will be called Notre Dame du
Lac (Our Lady of the Lake), as it will arise
precisely on the shore of Lake Tiberias. It will of
course have a chapel where pilgrims can pray, celebrate Mass
and the other Sacraments, just as happens in the other
holy places. We have thought of calling this chapel Duc
in Altum, because, by a series of providential coincidences it
has been centered on the boat from which Jesus preached,
Peter´s boat. And this was precisely the phrase that Jesus
said to Peter at the end of his preaching: Duc
in altum, "go into the deep and let down your
nets." The boat is in the logo of the whole
project and it will also be in that chapel.
We have also thought
of making a center to promote woman´s dignity, as we
think that Mary Magdalene is a central personage of the
Gospel and her figure can give us material to propose
a whole Christian feminism. We hope to name this center
"Magdalene Institute." We have also thought of a multi-media center
to help pilgrims, with attractive and modern means, to understand
their pilgrimage, the names they are going to hear, the
itineraries, etc. We are living in the culture of image,
of music, of the senses. We think that we can
and must use the best means to speak to the
men and women of today.
Finally, the project will have an archaeological area
as, providentially, we found there a great part of the
ancient village of Magdala, the village of Mary Magdalene, of
Earlier you mentioned some surprises and novelties.
Father Solana: Indeed, the project I
thought of at the beginning was only the nucleus of
what it is now, as on the way Providence has
sent us important persons, ideas and discoveries that have greatly
enriched and enhanced the original idea. Perhaps the most important
are in the archeological field. We acquired the plots between
the years 2006 and 2009. In 2009, we were given
the license to build and carry out the excavations prior
to construction, in keeping with Israeli law. To our great
surprise, we discovered several buildings, among them the first-century synagogue
of Magdala. The synagogue is a real archeological treasure as
it is one of the seven oldest synagogues in the
world found up to now. It is, perhaps, the richest,
as it has elements that were never discovered before, such
as mosaics, frescos and an altar.
However, from our Christian point of view
it is precious, as it is the only one of
Jesus´ temples in the whole of Galilee. And we must
recall one of the frequent phrases in the Gospels "Jesus
went about Galilee teaching in its synagogues."
In addition to this we found
an area of the port of Magdala of the first
century, several areas of houses some with ritual baths, etc.,
numerous artifacts and coins. According to officials of the Authority
of Antiquities, it is one of the best archaeological sites
relating to the first century, that is, the time in
which Jesus lived.
Among the agreeable surprises have been the more than 400
volunteers who with great enthusiasm have wished to collaborate in
the archaeological excavations. This has been a blessing from God,
as these young people, of numerous countries and provenances, have
been able to take back a great experience of the
Land of Jesus. I am very grateful to them.
ZENIT: I congratulate you
and I hope this Center will open soon. What plans
do you have?
Father Solana: For years we have been thinking of opening
the first phase of the project on 12/12/12, that is,
at the end of this year. In fact, I think
it will be difficult for several reasons, above all because
we are doing the whole project with donations and it´s
a very large project.
I really see the hand of God in this:
the time during which we have developed this project has
coincided with the grave crisis we Legionaries went through because
of the history of our founder. It has coincided with
two global financial crises. It has coincided with two armed
conflicts in the Middle East region. And yet, God has
blessed us with the generosity of many people. Needless to
say, we would like to open this Center as soon
as possible, but there is no hurry. What is important
is to do it well. Let´s hope that in December
of this year we´ll be able to open the chapel
and the restaurant; the rest will open little by little.
In answering this
question I realize that I am putting everything in the
future, but in reality, there is already a partial opening,
as we have prepared a brief itinerary so that pilgrims
can visit the archaeological area and, if they wish, Mass
can also be celebrated in the beach area. It is
a modest itinerary, but I think it has its charm,
on seeing how the Holy Place is "born," as opposed
to the other places one visits, which are now as
they have been for a long time. More than one
pilgrim has visited while a vessel, or coins or a
street is being discovered.
ZENIT: Will this place have something that is different
from the others?
Father Solana: I don´t think so. The majority of the
Holy Places are in the hands of the Franciscans, who
have done a notable job from all points of view.
We have tried to imitate them as much as possible
and would like to insert ourselves in this great tradition
of the Holy Places. Perhaps, if there is to be
a "difference," I think it would be that it is
a modern place. The other places were made many decades
or centuries ago. The requirements of the highway administration, of
security, etc. to which we are obliged at this moment
by law I think will make it a very efficient
place, more modern. Not for nothing will it be the
first place built and inaugurated at the beginning of the
Give us your last comment on Magdala.
Father Solana: Really, there is much
to say. In fact, I am writing a book on
this project. I wish to add only the beauty of
the place; Jesus chose well where to live and preach.
Magdala is in a beautiful geographic enclave and those who
visit are enchanted by the Lake, the mountain and all
given that I cannot comment on many other things, I
suggest a visit to our Internet page: http://www.magdalacenter.com.