A French historian once wrote that Jerusalem does not belong to Jerusalem, because it is a city of the world, a city where people of the whole world meet, again and again, face to face, to confront each other and to challenge one another. It is a place where some seek to practice peaceful cohabitation while others seek war, where some strive to spread a sense of common belonging while others try to spread hatred.

In fact, it is easy to succumb to the temptation to see only what the almost daily news reports tell us about the Holy City – the violence existing between Jews and Palestinians, and the unending struggle of Christians…

But is this all there is to Jerusalem?

Is there still room for hope and for the prophetic role this city can play for the entire world?
Chiara Lubich was always convinced that there is room for hope. She went to the Holy Land for the first time in 1956 and among the holy places she visited, one site in particular moved her. It’s called the “Scaletta,” and it refers to the ancient Roman white stone steps, just outside the walls of the old city, next to the church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu.

According to tradition, Jesus walked down those steps in the evening after the Last Supper, on his way to the garden of Gethsemane. It was on those very stones that he uttered his prayer for unity: “Father, that all may be one…”

The plot of land adjacent to the Roman steps called the "Scaletta" where the future International Center for Unity and Peace in Jerusalem will rise
The plot of land adjacent to the Roman steps called the “Scaletta” where the future International Center for Unity and Peace in Jerusalem will rise

Here is how Chiara Lubich described the strong impression this place made on her. In her diary, she wrote: “It was here that their Teacher, whose hour of death was drawing near,
prayed to the Father. His heart was full of tenderness for his disciples, who had been chosen by Heaven, yes, but who were still weak and without understanding. Jesus prayed to the Father in the Father’s own name and in the name of all those for whom he had come and for whom he was ready to die: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:11 NRSV). There he called upon the Father to make us his children, even though we were far from him through our own fault, and to make us all brothers and sisters, in the strongest unity, that which is divine.”

From that moment, it was Chiara’s desire that a center for dialogue and unity could one day be born on this tiny piece of land.

In the 1980s, an important development came about. A plot of land adjacent to the Roman steps became available. Slowly the project went forward and approval was granted in 2016. Recently excavations for the building started.

The future “Center for Unity and Peace” received a precise mandate from Chiara: it is to be a place of spirituality, study, dialogue and formation. It is to be a place open to people of different ages, cultures, beliefs and backgrounds. It must foster encounters and opportunities to learn about others and so promote authentic relationships.

Another decisive moment came in February 2019, when Maria Voce, president of the Focolare Movement, placed a small medal of Our Lady into the soil as an important initial sign for the construction of this center. The project is to build a multi-purpose structure, suitable for hosting events and initiatives of various kinds at both local and international levels.

Stefania Tanesini

We call on everyone to participate in the realization of the International Center
for Unity and Peace in Jerusalem. Every initiative from all over the world is very much welcomed. To support ICUPJ and collaborate with us, feel free to write to us at: contact@icupj.org

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