JERUSALEM - Fr Jean-Daniel Gullung, superior of the Assumptionist community and rector of Saint Peter in Gallicantu for nine years. In a few days, he will hand over to his successor, before leaving for France where a new mission awaits him in Albertville in Savoy, at the service of elderly Fathers and Brothers. Before his departure, he talked with the Media Office of the Latin Patriarchate, to share his experience in the Holy Land, and in particular, the last decade spent in Jerusalem as a religious and rector of a Holy Place.
Father, you already knew the Holy Land well before being appointed superior of the Assumptionist community of Saint Peter in Gallicantu nine years ago. Tell us!
1 / About fifty years ago, I came to the Holy Land for the first time; it was July 1973, a year after my ordination. Since I am a vowed religious, I asked people who wanted to give me a gift to participate in the financing of the pilgrimage that I wanted to make in Jerusalem: because it is no longer preached in the same way, when we saw the places where Jesus lived.
I thought this was going to be the sole pilgrimage of my life. However, four years later, in September 1977, I accompanied my first group of pilgrims, and season after season, year after year, I led over 60 groups, before being appointed in 2011 superior of the community and rector of the Saintctuary of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. After three mandates of 3 years, the time has come for the handover.
Many foreigners residing in the Holy Land admit that their daily lives here have changed the perception that they made of the country during the various trips/pilgrimages. Is it the same for you? Did you have any worries before settling in Jerusalem 9 years ago?
2 / It is not the same thing to be passing through or residing here. I often wondered if I would resist amidst the tensions running through this country. I had come just before the Kippur war, and I got to know the two intifadas, then the Gaza war in July-August 2014. I shared the hopes of peace and the illusions of the agreements not reached, and I will depart, leaving its inhabitants facing an uncertain future. I knew that I would be alone for a time, but I will not forget this land and those who continue to live there.
Religious congregations from all over the world choose to come to the Holy Land, to do service in the most diverse fields of activity. What is the reason for the presence of Assumptionists?
3 / Our mission, and raison d’etre, is to welcome pilgrims who come here to remember a crucial moment in the Passion journey. I repeatedly marvel at the fact that the Way of the Cross begins with the death sentence of Jesus by Pilate and that the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary begin with and pass from the Agony in the Garden to the Flagellation, to the Crowning of Thorns. Now, between Gethsemane and the Praetorium of Pilate, there is the Palace of Caiaphas! Through sheets and panels, I wanted to remember that the Saintctuary of Saint Peter in Gallicantu is the bearer of a message of mercy. The large mosaic of the church choir shows Jesus, sentenced to death for blasphemy, who welcomes the cross that descends from heaven. It recalls what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “God loved the world so much that he handed over his Son to save it.” Recognizing himself as the Son of God before the Sainthedrin, Jesus accepted the cross, which the Father’s love did not spare him. As for the icons of the crypt, they recall that, in this place, the apostle Peter, too self-confident, experienced his weakness through his triple denial, but also - and this is what saved him from despair - the merciful gaze of the Savior.
An international community engaged with pilgrims, the Assumptionists are an integral part of the local Church. As superior and rector of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, you must have felt pushed, like your predecessors, to innovate and start new liturgical traditions. What legacy do you leave to the pilgrims and the Diocese of Jerusalem?
4 / Every year, (there are nine this year), I wanted to mark the feast of Saint Peter with the celebration of the first Vespers, preceded by a pilgrimage in the steps of Jesus and Peter, allowing to climb the steps of the Scala Saintta which led to the High Priest’s palace. Another occasion of access to the staircase is offered on the evening of Holy Thursday, after the celebration of the Lord’s Supper Mass, awaiting the grand procession that arrives from Gethsemane, led by the Franciscans. Pilgrims regret that they no longer have access to the steps, but if we want to preserve it for those who come after us, we had to protect it from degradation.
In 2013, they surrounded the architectural areas by a closure, and placed a parallel staircase, allowing observation of the Scala Saintta.
Last year, some days, we had over three thouSaintd pilgrims a day. The staircase, which, on the other hand, is dangerous to walk in the direction of the descent, would not resist such a turnout.
When you spend many years as head of a shrine of this magnitude, you necessarily leave a mark on it. Have you completed any work with which you are particularly satisfied?
5 / The Church and the convent had been renewed by my predecessors, and I thought I had to do only maintenance work. They also had an elevator installed to allow people with limited mobility to access the Church. But one day, I found a person in a wheelchair, left alone in front of the church entrance, while his group continued the visit. I was struck by it, and I decided to have a path with inclined planes set up, which we inaugurated on the feast of Saint Peter in 2016. In this way, people with disabilities can reach the crypt, and from there, see the deep pit, the archaeological sites, and have access to the model of the Byzantine Jerusalem, and also to the overlook. It is an achievement that I am particularly happy with.
Jerusalem is known as the city of the three monotheistic religions. On the other hand, there is less awareness of the diversity that characterizes the Church itself, with its mosaic of confessions and rites that coexist in the Holy City. What inspires this diversity? Do you keep a particular memory of it?
6 / A memory that I will keep of Jerusalem is that of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
In this city, which is that of the Mother Church, the diversity of the Church stands out. What I liked is that every day we go from one community to another, to celebrate vespers according to each one’s liturgy. Afterward, there is the toast of friendship served at Greek Orthodox space at the foot of Calvary, on the evening when the Divine Office is celebrated in the Holy Sepulcher. Isn’t it wonderful?
Your next mission will be very different from what you are currently doing in the Holy Land. Can you tell us about it?
7 / The Provincial Father called me to the Assumptionist community of Albertville, Savoy (France), to assist the Superior in the service of elderly Fathers and Brothers. The community constitutes about twenty vowed religious and is located in a retreat house that welcomes sixty older people, men, and women. I am happy to have still enough health to continue serving, and when I can no longer, I will not have to live in that house: I will already be there!