With a solemn blessing, the Grotto of the Hermitage in Jerusalem was inaugurated on February 18. At sunset on a wintry Saturday afternoon , inside the complex that includes the Basilica of the Agony, the Garden of Olives, the Grotto of the Betrayal, and the Tomb of the Virgin, a large group of people celebrated the reopening of the rocky ravine. Having been transformed into a grotto, it was, in fact, affected by renovations so as to replace the old ceiling with the new one. Fr. Diego Dalla Gassa, director of the Hermitage (a retreat at the foot of the Mount of Olives), was a strong proponent of this project, and he has managed to make it a reality through the efforts of Fr. Alfredo Pizzuto, a priest from the Diocese of Siena.
The grotto was often used for prayer, or in the warmer months, as a place to spend time outdoors, but the previous ceiling, made of asbestos, made it difficult to use when it was hot. For this reason, a new roof was put in, replacing the old one, which had deteriorated over time. Fr. Alfredo received collaboration from Ms. Oretta Leonini, who materially allowed the realization of the project; it was inaugurated in memory of her husband, Alfredo Mazzuoli, who died in 2012 and who visited the Holy Land many times as a pilgrim. With the approval of the former Custos, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Sienese architect Alessandro Bagnoli devised the project, and he worked alongside engineer Vincenzo Pagano. The project was made possible thanks to the technical office of the Custody, as well as the help of outside workers and even Fr. Diego himself.
At the opening ceremony, Fr. Diego began: “In this place where we pray and show our thankfulness, I want to begin by thanking my fraternity, who has supported me during this project, and who had the idea of helping us build this roof.” He also mentioned the previous director of the Hermitage, Fr.George: “If our effort was worthwhile, even for one person, it was worth it.” Then Fr. Alfredo Pizzuto spoke and he told the story of the people who helped out with the project: “I was the first to get involved [with this project],” he said. Recalling the Gospel that speaks about Jesus spending the night on the Mount of Olives, he asked, “What if this was one of the very caves where Jesus spent the night?” Hence, the need for a proper roof and for the help of Mrs. Orietta Leonini.
“This place is called a grotto and it was probably one,” said architect Alessandro Bagnoli. I figured that it was caved in and this is why we needed to cover it [properly].” The first idea was that of a united ceiling, but then we decided to put up something more open and airy. We then thought to build three olive leaves, because the grotto is located on the Mount of Olives. After blessing of the place, the vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, Fr. Dobromir Jasztal, thanked the Custos, Fr. Francesco Patton. “Jesus tells us to pay attention to ourselves and not to get lost in the vicissitudes of life. And the Hermitage is the place that should facilitate our search for peace, an escape from all of the things that separate us from God.”