JERUSALEM – Saint Peter in Gallicantu finally reopened its doors to pilgrims and tourists on Monday, June 1. If the issue is financially risky, – the resumption of international flights has not yet been decided by the government – the Assumptionist Fathers and the Oblates of the Assumption have decided to take up the challenge, betting on “mental de-confinement” essential for a real resumption of activities.
It has been five days since the Saint Peter in Gallicantu site reopened its doors, after two and a half months of closure imposed by the civil authorities due to the health crisis and the risks of spreading COVID-19. The Assumptionist Fathers and the Oblates of the Assumption, who have managed the Holy Place since its creation, are thus gradually taking up the mission that led them to the Holy Land: welcoming pilgrims.
“We gambled, admittedly a risk, to reopen our doors on June 1,” says Fr César, treasurer of Saint Peter in Gallicantu for almost three years. “I am talking about ‘risk’ because international flights have not yet resumed, only a few locals have come since the reopening and we have very little visibility to date on what might happen soon.” Note that the reopening is accompanied by the return of most site employees, including those who work directly with visitors, while the latter are very few now.
“I announced to the employees that the reopening had a price and that we would have to reduce everyone’s hours,” said the administrator. “It is an essential compromise to maintain financial balance. Returning to the same timetables as before the crisis, when the situation is far from being completely normalized, would simply lead us to further reduce the number of employees.”
“The reopening is, above all, symbolic,” says Cyril, a volunteer on the site since last September. “It is the vocation of Saint Peter in Gallicantu to welcome people, from wherever they come. Even if visitors are extremely rare now, and it will probably be necessary to wait until September to see a complete resumption of the reception of pilgrims, it is important to show that the site is open. This could also open the way and participate in the de-confinement of minds.”
“Physical confinement is certainly behind us, but there persists a form of mental confinement,” according to Father César. “We are, nonetheless, betting that, faster than we think, minds will be unconfined […] By word of mouth, in particular, individuals and groups will come back and the welcome of pilgrims to Saint Peter will resume in proportions which justify the reopening of the site […] A taxi stopped the other day in front of Saint Peter and noted the reopening. A Tour Bus also passed. And we had a visit from a group from an Israeli guide school on Monday. These people are likely to spread the word around them, which we hope will attract many visitors.”