Inter-seminary Cultural Day 2024, Jerusalem

On the 24th of April, 2024 there was great joy at the Salesian Pontifical University (STS) – Jerusalem campus when thethree major seminaries within the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem met for their annual Interseminary Cultural Day. These major seminaries are: the patriarchal seminary in Jala from Bethlehem, the Franciscan seminary of the Holy Land and the Salesian Pontifical University, Jerusalem campus who hosted the event. The celebration began at 14hrs and went on until 20:30hrs. The theme of the day was: the importance of inter-cultural relations. There were more than one hundred and fifty participants.

The day started with an opening solemn song and prayer, followed by a conference on the importance of inter-cultural relations. The opportunity was given to various groups to exhibit the importance of inter-cultural relations with different presentations that included singing, dancing, telling stories, eating and drinking together, and most importantly, praying together for peace, justice, reconciliation and unity in our world regardless of our differences. Petitions were presented in different languages with representations from different continents.

This event was not only inter-cultural, but also inter-continental, inter-communitarian and inter-personal. It was beautiful to feel the family spirit, especially when participants gathered together as brothers to collaborate, and to participate actively and creatively in the various initiatives and proposed activities and programs of the day. The presentation of cultural items took the following order: Middle East, Asia Far East, India, Central Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, America, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe. This was indeed an intercultural and amazing experience. We thank God for granting us such a successful and enriching experience, for all the participants were happy.

Above all, the message of the day is that Culture is the set of beliefs, values, practices, traditions, and behaviours shared by a specific group, that strives to respect, open up and learn from other cultures, as it shares its own good gifted cultural values without loosing its specific unique identity. Culture encompasses aspects like language, religion, cuisine, social norms, and arts that vary widely between different societies and ethnic groups. Culture plays a significant role in shaping individual identities and influencing interactions between people in a community.

Nonetheless, one challenge of culture is the tension between preserving traditional customs as well as values, while at the same time adapting to a rapidly changing world. As technology and globalization continue to shape our societies, cultures around the world are faced with the dilemma of how to maintain their unique identities while also embracing new ideas and influences. Another challenge is the issue of cultural adoption, where elements of one culture are borrowed or adopted by members of another culture without proper acknowledgement or respect.

Cultural norms and traditions can sometimes hinder progress and prevent individuals from adapting to new ideas and ways of living. More so, some cultures are exclusive and not open to incorporating new ideas or perspectives from other cultures, which can limit diversity, enrichment and innovation.

Does this mean we do not need culture? No! We need culture, and even more, we need intercultural and especially interpersonal relations. Inter-cultural relations help us to live well in society. Thus, it was for this reason that the organisers decided to reflect on the theme: THE IMPORTANCE OF INTER-CULTURAL RELATIONS. May we be open-minded and open-hearted to conserve the goodness in our own cultures as we also open up to enrich ourselves with the beautiful riches in other cultures too.

By Kelvin Mutalala


On the 20th of March 2024, the students of the Salesian Pontifical University (STS), Jerusalem Campus had an archaeological excursion, visiting TEL ARAD – SHIVTA – and MITZPE RAMON (panoramic view). Since it was a long trip, they left at 7:15 hrs., from the Salesian Pontifical University (STS), Jerusalem campus, in the Ratisbonne community. Fr Yunus DEMIRCI, OfmCap. guided the archaeological excursion.

Students of STS with the STS Principal Fr. Andrzej Toczyski, SDB.



We began the archaeological excursion with a visit to Tel Arad. Tel Arad (Hebrew: תל ערד), Arabic Tell ‘Arad (تل عراد), is an archaeological tel, or mound, located west of the Dead Sea, approximately 10 kilometres (6 miles) west of the modern Israeli city of Arad into an area surrounded by mountain ridges known as the Arad Plain. The Tel overlooks an important crossroads from the Bronze Age to the present day. During the Iron Age, Arad defended the main road from Jerusalem, Hebron, and the Arad Valley to the ruins of Horvat Uza and the Dead Sea.

In total, 18 seasons of excavations took place, 14 of which focused on the Early Bronze Age city and were led by Ruth Amiran. The first expedition took place there between 1962 and 1966 and the second between 1971 and 1980. Yochanan Aharoni mostly led the excavations of the Mound of the Citadel. Today the site is declared a national park managed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.[1] After finishing the visit to Tel Arad, they visited Shivta.


Shivta (Hebrew: שבטה), originally Sobata (Greek: Σόβατα) or Subeita (Arabic: شبطا), is an ancient city in the Negev Desert in Israel located 43 kilometres southwest of Beersheba. Shivta was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2005, as part of the Incense Route and Desert Cities of the Negev, along with Haluza/Elusa, Avdat and Mamshit/Mampsis. The name Shivta is a modern Hebraization, given by the Negev Naming Committee in the early 1950s. The Greek name Sobata was mentioned in the Nessana papyri.

Ruins of Shivta: Long considered a classic Nabataean city on the ancient spice route, archaeologists are now considering the possibility that Shivta was a Byzantine agricultural settlement and a stopover for pilgrims en route to St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula. A few ruins from the Roman period have been discovered, but most archaeological finds date from the Byzantine period. Shivta’s water supply was based on surface runoff collected in large reservoirs.

Roman Period: Roman ruins from the first century BCE have been discovered in the southern part of the city.

Byzantine Period: Three Byzantine churches (one main church and two smaller ones), two wine presses, residential areas and administrative buildings were excavated.

Churches: Traces of a wall painting of the transfiguration of Christ were discovered in the apse of the south church, as well as the remains of a colourful 6th-century mosaic and a beardless depiction of Jesus in the north church.

Agriculture (wine): The Shivta wine presses provide an insight into the scale of wine production at the time. According to archaeologists’ calculations, the Nabataean/Byzantine village of Shivta produced approximately two million litres of wine.

After finishing the visit to Shivta, they went to Mitzpe Ramon.

MITZPE RAMON (panoramic view)

Mitzpe Ramon (Hebrew: מִצְפֵּה רָמוֹן‎, Ramon Lookout; Arabic: متسبي رمون‎) is a local council in the Negev Desert in southern Israel. It is located on the northern ridge at an altitude of 860 meters (2,800 ft) overlooking the world’s largest erosion cirque, known as Makhtesh Ramon. In 2022, it had 5,263 inhabitants.

Mitzpe Ramon was founded in 1951 as a camp for workers building Highway 40. The town’s first permanent residents, several young families from Kibbutz Re’im and other areas of Israel, began moving there. After five years, the town was home to 370 residents including 160 children, most of them Israeli veterans. There were also 180 housing units to absorb new immigrants. They were joined by immigrants from North Africa, Romania and India in the 1960s, and it became the southernmost of the Negev’s developing cities.

We ended the day with a visit to the Dead Sea, where we had a bath, and then went back to Jerusalem.

Kelvin Mutalala, M.Afr.


2nd Archaeological Visit to Tel Beersheva and Ein Avdat, 2023-24

 The Negev Valley: Exploring the Ancient Route

   On Wednesday, March 28, the entire Ratisbonne Seminary (led by Fr. Junus) travelled two hours, 164 km and 3000 years into history to experience a trade route that united the ancient world. The spice trade was one of the earliest commercial enterprises that traversed races, cultures, empires and continents. Beginning around 1000 BC, spices from the Far East (Indonesia and India) would travel west satiating the needs of the people in Arabia. From the ancient city of Petra, the road would split in two. Some spices continued westward to Egypt while the lion’s share of the product headed north into the Negev Desert and diagonally toward the coast of the eastern Mediterranean Sea- to the port city of Gaza. From there, these highly desired condiments were shipped off to the greater Mediterranean region.

     It was there in the Negev desert that we explored. Its plain terrain and abundant water sources made it conducive for ancient travel. One city that developed and catered to those ancient travellers was the city of Tel Beer Sheva. The tell, or archaeological mound, that is located east of the modern city of Beer Sheva, had its most developed period during the end of the 2nd millennium (Iron Age). This period is known by ancient historians as the Israelite period. At the archeological site, there exists the remains of an ancient well where tradition says was used by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were also said to have had interactions with God. The very name Beer Sheva means the Well (Beer) of the Covenant (Sheva). The site of this ancient city revealed an elaborate city, with an administrative city plaza, that a weary traveller would approach when entering the city. It also contains cisterns, storage houses, casemate walls and an elaborate palace. The city thrived for 500 years before finally falling (theoretically) to an earthquake.

     The next stop was to the Wadi Zin- a valley ravine that stretches from the central to the northern highlands of the Negev Desert. This Wadi, which is now the Ein Avdat National Park, was an extraordinary site to behold. At this site, Fr. Junus was a man of few words. For the strikingly beautiful landscape spoke volumes. The Ratisbonne explorers took a hike through the canyon- created by the numerous springs at the southern openings of the Wadi.  Which emptied into deep pools in a series of waterfalls. These conditions are what made it conducive for ancient travellers to traverse. Following the spice trade route, one can draw a straight line from the ancient city of Petra (in Jordan) to the Gaza port. Arrival at the oasis of Ein Avdat probably marked a joyous occasion for weary sojourners. Not only did it provide water, shade and beautiful scenery, but also indicated the midpoint between Petra and Gaza. The site was settled by Nabatines, an Arab people whose economy depended on the popular and profitable spice trade route. Their occupation in this region probably had a lot to do with their interest in controlling the trade route. Their main city Petra also marked a pivotal location for those coming from the Far East and served as a famous marketplace. These mysterious people had practically a monopoly on the trade route for a few hundred years which probably explains their ultimate downfall. Although they became allies with the Romans upon their conquest. They would ultimately be absorbed into the empire and would lose their distinction as a unique people.

The last stop in this topological visit, to the proper city of Avdat, speaks of this Roman period following Nabatean rule. In Avdat stands the remains of an ancient Roman villa which served as a lookout spot over the trade route. This villa tower emphasizes the importance of the trade route for the Romans, who were famous for maintaining all the revenue streams that previous people cultivated. The name of the city (Avdat) came from the name of the Nabatean king Obada II. There is even an inscription which asks Zeus Oboda to bless the builder of the tower and its inhabitants. Even today, one can see the elaborate construction that was done by the Romans. The Villa, which served as an army camp for the Roman X Legion, contained vaulted rooms, walkways, Roman arches, cisterns, and a tower.  It even contained a wine press. This was also probably not only for domestic use but probably catered to travellers of the spice trade. The temple within the villa marks the various people who inhabited the area. An old Greek inscription notes their god Zeus and the Nabatine king Obada. From the Roman temple, one can see the remnants of Christianity’s conquest. The Byzantines controlled and renovated the villa for a few hundred years before an earthquake brought it down.

The most remarkable moment for me occurred here at the villa at Avdat. Looking out from where the tower stood, I could see the ancient trade route through the Negev Desert. Looking left I can imagine those coming from Petra. Turning to the right, I pictured the route towards the Gaza Port. One thought grabbed my attention and sparked my imagination. I was overwhelmed by a vision of a caravan of traders passing by on camels and carrying all the goods they wished to barter. One of those spices that they were carrying- around the turn of the first century was the very frankincense that was used to adore my saviour at the time of his birth. It was a moment that brought me great joy and immeasurable gratitude for my God.

By Br. Leo Adrian Imbert, SDB.

1st Archeological Visit to Megiddo, Beit Shearim, 2023-24

Beyond the Battlefield: A Fascinating Encounter with Armageddon and Bet She’arim

The resumption of our archaeological excursion after an interruption during the war allows our STS to delve again into the rich history of the Holy Land. Our visit to Har Meggido (Armageddon), a site steeped in historical significance, serves as a poignant reminder of Israel’s storied past, particularly during the reigns of Kings David and Solomon. Megiddo is a national park that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is about 16 acres of ‘ Strata’, which depicts different periods and cultures like Canaanites, Israelites, and Egyptians, dating back to the Neolithic period (7th– 6th century B.C.E.). It is an important strategic place for an army and a linking trade route for various countries. Therefore, there was a huge demand for this piece of land; henceforth, many battles were held here, which made Megiddo one of the most significant battlefields.

Under the knowledgeable guidance of Prof. Yunus Demirci, our exploration commenced with an illuminating video session, setting the stage for our immersive experience. Fr. Younus emphasised the pivotal role of Megiddo as a geographical nexus, shaping the trajectory of ancient commercial routes and exerting influence over travel and trade in the Middle East. As we traversed the site, we were transported back in time, envisioning the strategic importance of Megiddo as a coveted prize for kings vying for supremacy.

Megiddo was mentioned in several places in the Bible, including the New Testament. According to the Book of Revelation 16:16, it is in Megiddo that the most significant battle between God and evil will take place, after which God’s reign proceeds on earth. Upon reaching the site, we spotted many things to view, like the great Canaanite gate, the gate of Israel, the remains of palaces and temples, and the erected cultic stones for rituals, public granaries, reservoirs, stables, water systems, etc. The views of different strata from the excavations clearly indicate that it is ‘ a tomb of histories.’ I found the remnants of the “Northern Palace”  and the “Water System” most fascinating.

The Northern Palace, which was King Solomon’s spectacular project and dates back to the Solomonic era, is described in the book of 1 Kings. Nonetheless, a few academics propose it was during the reign of King Ahab. A unique subterranean tunnel built by the Israelites for the water system demonstrates their prudence and wisdom. They have dug this huge tunnel to bring the water into the cistern from the outside of the walls. Therefore, during attacks, enemies cannot deprive them of water. Megiddo is known for its greatest war between Egyptians and Assyrians, and the former emerged victorious. According to 2 Kings 23:29– 30, King Josiah of Judah was killed by Egyptian King Neco. He reigned over the region for several years.

Armageddon has become synonymous with doomsday scenarios and apocalyptic fiction in popular culture, inspiring countless works of literature, film, and art. Yet, amid the spectre of impending doom, there remains a glimmer of hope—a belief that even in the darkest hour, humanity possesses the resilience and ingenuity to overcome adversity.

Later, we visited ‘ Bet She’arim’, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the ancient Catacombs dating back to the 3rd century. They are all the ancient Israelite tombs; among them is the tomb of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, who compiled the Mishnah. After the death of the Rabbi, many are all the ancient Israelite tombs; among them is the tomb of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, who compiled the Mishnah. After the death of the Rabbi, many Jews who considered this Rabbi a saint wanted to be buried near him. Therefore, several Israelites were buried here. What is most interesting is the different styles of burials and the use of techniques and arts to prepare the tombs and coffins. There are stoned coffins, marble coffins, wooden coffins, clay coffins, and lead coffins. It consists of 30 different catacombs. Entering through the narrow door of the catacombs, reaching the spacious caves, and watching the unfolded reality made me think for a minute and reminded me of Psalm 49:11–12, which explains that wise and foolish, rich or poor, all will perish. We returned to our house in the evening, filled with wisdom and content.

Br. Kranthiraj Somireddi, SDB

Inauguration of the Second Semester 2023-2024

It is 1st February 2024, the beginning of the 2nd half of the 2023/2024 academic year. We begin right after St. John Bosco’s feast and begin the semester with a festive mood.

The opening ceremony events were planned to be in two parts: morning and afternoon sessions. The morning session of the ceremony began at 11:00 hrs. in the Don Bosco Hall with an opening prayer followed by a report from the Principal of the Institute, Rev. Dr. Andrzej Toczyski SDB. He highlighted the significant events of the previous semester but also commended professors and students for their cooperation in a successful first semester, especially the flexibility demonstrated when the war broke out. He also announced the departure of the Registrar, Sr. Angela Ridout SJA, back to her home country, assuming a new responsibility. He introduced Rev. Dr. Vincent Bosco SDB as the new Registrar and Secretary of the Institute, who in a few words, assured all of his readiness to combine the teaching and administrative work, regardless of the challenges.

There was an open session where students could express themselves by asking questions for clarification or making suggestions for a better semester. The morning session ended with the election of Kelvin Mutalala M.Afr. as the New Student Representative. Sincere gratitude to the outgoing Student Representative Deac. Acent Mtika SDB.

The second part of the opening ceremony featured a lecture by Rev. Dr. David Neuhaus, SJ, entitled “Before Jews, Against Arabs: Jews from Arab Lands.” Fr. David’s lecture provided valuable intellectual nourishment, highlighting the Jewish contributions to Arab nations across various domains such as language, culture, and tradition throughout recent history. Alongside this insightful lecture, we celebrate the promotion of Rev. Dr. Samuel Obu, SDB, to the rank of Associate Professor. This is a recognition of his dedication and expertise in his field.

It was a successful and delightful opening ceremony, with interactive, recreational, and intellectual activities, helping us to launch into the second semester.

Well begun is half done!

BAAFAA Solomon M.Afr

February 2nd 2024

First Year Visit to the Holy Sepulcher

A first topographical visit to the Holy Sepulcher

“What are your expectations of this Holy Place before going in for the first time?”, was the question asked to our brother Albert Leibor, sdb, a first-year theology student from Tanzania. His answer is what most of us could have said when we know we´re about to encounter something new, “Everything is better learned when you experience it by yourself, when you see holiness with your own eyes. We all have different ways of burying the death. I want to see how they buried Jesus.” This phrase could summarize the beginning of a path where our knowledge and faith is just about to encounter the divinity.

As it is tradition in the Ratisbonne Monastery, we, the first-year students, began the 4-year studies with a visit to the most well-known place in the Old City, in the mystical and spiritual Jerusalem of old. On 14th September 2023, the 19 new students to this study house, accompanied by our teacher, Father Yunus Demirci OFM, some Salesian priests and a religious sister, experienced a guided visit to one of the most important religious and touristic destinations of the Old City of Jerusalem: The Holy Sepulcher of Jesus Christ.

Everything started with a historic and topographical introduction to the place our feet were just about to step on. Father´s experience and explanation made us imagine the immensity of such place followed by immediately taking us at 11 am to the Jaffa Gate where he enlightened us about the importance of the main road (St Elena´s), the Christian quarter of the city, to reach the treasure waiting for us. Following the safe steps of the guide, we reached the entrance to the immense Basilica that safeguards the jewel of the Christian Faith (and many other religions): the place where the Messiah´s body lay for three days and later left after his Resurrection. The explanation of what we were about to encounter was made for us to answer all the possible questions we could have: how, where, when, who… followed right away by a flabbergasted and amazed group of neo visitors willing to find these answers in the remains of a real structure of Jesus’ human form.

The visit to the Basilica was as follows: the Stone of Anointment, Golgotha (touching of the cross) in the Latin side of the temple, the Church of Adam, the Armenian Side of the temple, Jesus’ tomb, the Syriac Chapel and Jose of Arimathea´s tomb, the Catholic chapel inside the Basilica and Jesus’ temporary prison. Each place was accompanied by a description by authority and a better religious understanding of each place visited with the clarification that this all is kept alive thanks to the written and pilgrim tradition and love for the importance of the center of our religion. Unfortunately, not all the places were available for the visit but the four years to come are enough to return to the place where the promise was fulfilled, the place that millions of people desire to visit and that we can encounter with all our senses. How blessed are we?

“My expectations were false. From father Yunus’ explanation I can see that through generations there is not a definitely place, that we always want something real to believe but all we need is faith that it happened. There is no need to have the exact facts, and, for that, faith is necessary.” Brother Albert said after the visit. The promise of understanding the mystery better through our theological studies has started well and, and from now on, is well assured.


– Cristian Adolfo López SDB

March 1, 2022


The final year students of STS, finally presented their syntheses which marks the culmination of their academic studies and 4 fruitful years at STS.

The syntheses presentations began on the 30th of May and ended on the 2nd of June.

    30th May

Kazadi Kabale Florimond - The Dignity of the Human Person elevated by the Paschal Mystery

Da Silva Cezar Nayon - Suffering in light of the Paschal Mystery

    31st May

Kaiau Bernard - The Human Encounter with Christ in the Sacraments

Stener Philip - Shepherding the people of God in the World

Kuli Sylvester - Oral Presentation

    1st June

Ssemakula Henry - Human Dignity as lived in Christian Family and Marriage

Avesio Francesco - Redemption of the Human Being through the Paschal Mystery of Christ

    2nd June

Gidh Robinson - Last Supper: Christian Memorial for Eternal Life

Tudu Somesh - A Theology of the Family as the Foundation of Christian Life

We wish the final year students as they embark on their journey to the priesthood.

3rd June, 2022

5th Archaeological Excursion: Herodion, Mamre, Hebron

On Friday, 24th March 2023, the second archaeological excursion of the students of the STS Jerusalem campus of the Salesian Pontifical University took place. All visited places during this excursion were somehow connected to Herod the Great. Herodion, a megalomaniac project of Herod that after his death was turned into a monumental mausoleum; then Hebron, with its well-preserved wall around the Cave of Machpelah, which is also Herod’s piece of work; and finally, Mamre, where Herod built an enclosure wall.

Starting from our Jerusalem Ratisbonne-based campus at 7:30 am, the students, guided by the archaeological scholar Fr. Yunus Demirci OFM Cap, first visited the Herodion National Park southeast of Bethlehem. After seeing one impressive documentary and one multimedia show about the history of the site, the life, and death of Herod the Great, the students visited the theatre, mausoleum, and fortress on the top of the hill, which is partly artificial, called the Upper Herodium. As Herod was an exceptional architect and sensualist, the fortress also contained a Roman bath. We did not visit the Lower Herodion, supposed to be the palace, but we had a beautiful view of the excavated remains from the hilltop.

Although the weather was favourable, the cultural aspects were not. The next stop was Hebron, the tombs of the Patriarchs. Unfortunately, it was Friday and a few days after the beginning of Ramadan. The staff did not allow us to enter the sacred site, neither from the Jewish nor the Muslim side. So we had just the opportunity to touch and admire the refined wall construction of Herod. Not of small importance for students from all around the world was the opportunity to observe and absorb on the spot, the political and religious situation between Israel and Palestine, Jews and Muslims.

Finally, we went to visit places associated with the life of Abraham and Sarah. There are at least two traditions connecting different places with them. In the 18th chapter of Genesis, we can read about the visit of God to Abraham in the form of three angels. Abraham treats them very generously and receives a promise of a child from Sarah. In the same chapter, we read about the intercession of Abraham to God wanting to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. One tradition associates the Oaks of Mamre with today’s Elonei Mamre, north of the tombs of the Patriarchs. This archaeological site contains the remains of Herod’s enclosure and the Constantine basilica, one of the four basilicas spoken of by the ancient pilgrims – one was the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, one was the Basilica on the Mount of Olives dedicated to the Ascension, the Nativity Basilica in Bethlehem and finally Mamre. Unfortunately, the site was closed, but we were able to see the outside excavated area.

Unluckily in the nearby mosque, a noon prayer was taking place, and the gathered believers blocked our bus with their cars so we were unable to leave after our visit. However, this proved to be a great experience for many students to see the Muslim prayers during Ramadan: seeing pious men of all ages bowing down on their knees and touching their foreheads on the ground, was impressive. We stood there in silence, contemplation, and some in animated talks with nosy children.

Another tradition conserves an old oak tree claimed to be Abraham’s Oak on the only Christian property in Hebron, belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church. After a long and perseverant knocking, the door was opened and we were allowed to enter the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. We had lunch just a few meters away from Abraham’s Oak in the shadow of the surrounding trees. Some explanation was given to us by a Russian volunteer in the monastery, Denis, a theology bachelor graduate. Following this, our driver Omar brought us safely back to Jerusalem, around 4 pm.

Matej Fabian SDB

March 26th 2023

4th Archaeological Excursion – Lod, Ramle, Azarya, Gezer

Forty people are leaving the Ratisbonne Monastery in Jerusalem. The morning is already late and the day will last until the contemplation of the sunset in front of a monolith: we are the students of the Studium Theologicum Salesianum and today's excursion, under the guidance of prof. Yunus Demirci, will take us to the cities of Ramleh, Lod, Yavne and the archaeological city of Gezer. We don't know it yet, but this day that we will spend in the western part of Israel will begin with water and end with water.

The first destination to be reached is Ramleh: it is a historic city in Palestine founded by the Arabs in the 8th century, built in the early Islamic period by Suliman, son of Abd al-Malik and ruled in the medieval period by various powers, including the Crusaders, who established a Latin church in the city. It was the capital and largest city of Palestine for several centuries and has played an important role in the political, cultural and religious history of the region. One of Ramleh's most notable features are its extraordinary cisterns, which were built in the 8th century to collect and store rainwater, essential for the city's survival in Palestine's arid climate... but before that, let's look at the 'water underground we enter a (former) medieval Latin church built during the Crusader period, when Ramleh was under Christian rule and which, after the reconquest by the Muslims, was transformed into a mosque in 1187 by the will of Saladin and was called the Great Mosque of Ramleh . The mosque has retained some of the original architectural features of the Crusader churches, such as the imposing columns and the three-nave subdivision.

After visiting the Franciscan church of St. Joseph and Nicodemus we arrive at another mosque: the White Mosque (also known as the Al-Jafari Mosque, after the Arab tribe that inhabited the area during the Islamic period) which was built during the reign of the Abbasid Caliphate in the 8th century and which is one of the oldest mosques in Israel. One of its most admirable parts is the minaret which is a tall, slender tower located in a corner of the courtyard: it has a square base with several levels of balconies and a cylindrical shaft that tapers towards the top. To conclude the Ramleh stage, a boat ride could not be missing. But where? Precisely in the underground cisterns, after which Fr. Yunus spoke to us all morning, connected to the great problem that the city had regarding the conservation of water: their Arabic name is Birkat al-Anaziyya (the pool of the arches) and they take their name from the rows of arches that surround them, which were built during the Fatimid period in the 10th century and which served as the supporting structure for a covered market which stood next to the pool. We'll have to keep these tanks in mind… before the day is out we'll have to get back to talking about them.

The second stop is Lod: a city located in central Israel, about 15 kilometers southeast of Tel Aviv. The city has a long history dating back to ancient times, with evidence of human habitation in the area dating back over 8,000 years. It was an important city in Roman and Byzantine times and played a significant role in the early Christian and Islamic eras. Once we arrive we immediately enter the Mosaic Archaeological Center, dedicated to the conservation and exhibition of a large and impressive ancient mosaic floor discovered in 1996 during construction works: the mosaic dates back to the 3rd century AD. and it is believed that it was part of a large villa belonging to a wealthy Roman. It features intricate designs and depictions of scenes from ancient Greek mythology, as well as daily life in the Roman period.

After a well-deserved break we enter a church (today run by Orthodox Christians), built in the 12th century by the Crusaders on a previous church from the Byzantine era: the church is dedicated to St. George as, according to tradition, the saint was born in Lod at the end of the 3rd century AD. to Christian parents. The place is considered sacred by both Christians and Muslims, as it is believed to be the burial place of St. George, revered as a saint in Christianity and as a prophet al-Khidr, in Islam. Indeed, after the fall of the Crusader kingdom at the end of the 13th century, the church was transformed into a mosque by the Mamluk sultan Baybars.

The sun is already taking on the warm tones of a day that is drawing to a close, when on a hill we reach a historic tower located in the Israeli city of Yavne. The building is also known as the Al-Anwar Mosque Minaret and is believed to have been built during the Ottoman period, around the 16th century, and was part of a mosque. From this hill it is possible to have an overview of the city which is located a short distance from the Mediterranean Sea and which is of historical importance due to the role it played after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD: here, Gamaliel II, a Jewish rabbi who lived in and 2nd century AD, helped establish the Sanhedrin in the city of Yavne as the center of Jewish religious authority and lead the reform of Judaism.

Last stop: the sky has now taken on reddish hues when we arrive at Gezer, an ancient site located in the central coastal region of today's Israel: archaeological evidence suggests that Gezer was inhabited as early as the Chalcolithic period (4500-3200 BC), and was later colonized by the Canaanites in the Bronze Age (3200-1200 BC). One of the oldest known Hebrew inscriptions was found here: the Gezer calendar is believed to date back to the 10th century BC, during the Israelite period and with 12 lines of Hebrew text, which are divided into two columns, it lists agricultural activities that were typically performed during each month of the year and also includes references to various religious festivals and observances, such as the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of the New Moon.

The archaeological city is very large and crossing it we find different types of buildings including a Canaanite tower, the Canaanite Gate and the so-called Solomon's Gate. We finally arrive at the Monolith Temple as the sun is setting and the day draws to a close: without realizing it we have returned to the beginning of the story. However, we have not yet talked about an element of this city, which is essential for keeping the places visited during this excursion together: water!

Gezer's water system was built in the Middle Bronze Age, around 1800 BC, and served as the main source of water for the city for many centuries. The plant consists of a large underground tunnel, which can be traveled in the company of bats, which extends for over 70 meters, leading to a spring located outside the city walls. Only one detail is missing: a Roman-era canal that connects the water system to Birkat al-Anaziyya, the cisterns of the city of Ramleh.

The day ended: we began with water and we concluded with water and the water itself, flowing underground, accompanied us on this journey that connected ancient civilizations and more than 4,000 years of history: from the Chalcolithic to the Crusades, from Canaanite to Jewish civilization, from Christian rule to Muslim rule. This is the Holy Land.

Federico Gozzi

Feb 27th 2023

Cultural Day – 1 March, 2023

הִנֵּה מַה-טּוֹב, וּמַה-נָּעִים--שֶׁבֶת אַחִים גַּם-יָחַד

Hine ma tov umanaim, shevet achim gam yakhad

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! -Ps 133


One need not quote scripture to emphasize one's point, but, there is no finer way to reiterate the words of the psalmist, as STS, participated in 'Jerusalem as a centre of culture and spirituality'; an evening spent in the sharing of new ideas and in building new relationships.

On the 1st of March, a joint meeting of seminarians from the major Theologates in and around Jerusalem, was organised at St Saviour’s Monastery - namely, the Franciscans, the Salesians of Don Bosco, the Missionaries of Africa and the Diocesans from Beit Gemal. The main theme was to stress the importance of interculturality, which, though misconstrued by many to be an agent of division, is actually a great asset for a community to possess.

At the start, the heads of each institute expounded on various aspects of inter-culturalism and its multi-faceted nature that influences human relations in community. The common idea to most of the presentations given was still the unique position that 'Jerusalem' plays in our life, with its colourful history and rich heritage. However, we cannot deny the fact that though each one of us is enriched by our experiences here, each one of us contributes to this reality for better or worse.

The programme then took on a more lively style form, with everyone breaking off into groups to prepare for a short 'cultural' presentation. These included short skits, dances and others which mostly highlighted some aspect of various regions of the world. These performances by the seminarians not only showed their own talents in acting, music and dance, but also showed the variety of regions from where they come. The very fact of the success of this event was the ability of the different groups to collaborate and even enjoy one another's company

Not forgetting to pray in all this, the gathering then moved to the Church. A well 'animated' adoration which focused on Don Bosco and Francis of Assisi, helped those present to raise their minds to God and give Him thanks for his wonderful works. As a fitting culmination to the event, the Franciscans, hosted a scrumptious dinner.

In the words of some of our brothers, "Today we got to meet the real persons behind those clerical collars and habits. Usually religious gatherings in Jerusalem end up being so engaging that we only have the time to shake a hand or exchange a hug. Today, we actually got a moment to share." Jerusalem is truly a phenomenon in itself. Living here is not only a privilege but also entails a task; a task to build a greater community. The potpourri of cultures and the many flavours of Christianity lived here, and have left an indelible mark on everyone who spends their time here at the confluence of three world religions, in Jerusalem, the city of Peace.


Nathanael George sdb

3rd March 2023