‘Land and Faith’ – the meeting grounds between religion and the environment, was the theme of the KKL-JNF event that took place on October 25th at the EXPO 2015 Israel Pavillon in Milan, in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.
The evening was dedicated to the memory of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. Honored guests included the Cardinal’s nephew, Giovanni Martini; Monsignor Francesco Fumagalli, Vice President of the Ambrosiana Library; Rabbi Elia Richetti; Avital Kotzner, Senior Manager of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism; and Joseph Robert Gosselin, a Bishop from the Evangelist Church of Florida. KKL-JNF Italy Envoy Shariel Gun opened the evening by greeting the audience and introducing the lecturers.
The President of the Milan Board, Sergio Castelbolognesi, thanked the over 100 people in the audience for being proof of the bond between Israel and Jews and Christians, and also for supporting democracy in Israel. “Israel is an amazing country where the story of humanity began,” he said “and where we have our common roots. It is the only place in the world where land and faith are so strongly connected.” Avital Kotzner added that the six months of EXPO presented Israel as it really is and she invited everyone to visit “this extraordinary country that has so much to offer.”
Mariagrazia Falcone, Press Agent of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, showed a PowerPoint display that descried the Gospel Trail, a project for religious tourism to discover Christian sites in Israel. One trail is a hike from Nazareth to Kefar Nahum in four stages that highlights both nature and spirituality. Many trails are suitable for riding bikes, thanks to the many biking trails that KKL-JNF has created throughout Israel. At the end of the pilgrimage, a tree will be planted for every attendee. Ms. Falcone fondly remembered the Cardinal and screened a movie about his visit to Israel.
Rabbi Elia Richetti noted that Cardinal encouraged dialogue between Jews and Christians at the highest levels. Martini strongly believed in the power of dialogue, which was previously expressed at the Second Vatican Council. “Through the commandments of the Torah, including the seven principles God gave to Noach, He wanted all of humanity to protect the universe,” the Rabbi said.
Giovanni Martini recalled his trip to Israel in 2013 for the inauguration of a forest grove named for his uncle near Tiberias, the area Martini loved the most. He described the Cardinale Martini Foundation, a project for collecting and classifying the Cardinal’s papers and documents, including words of gratitude he wrote to KKL-JNF for honouring him, which were read at the evening. The Cardinal’s deep bond with Judaism was based on reading the ancient manuscripts found in Qumran and on cooperation with Israeli universities.
A spectacular video clip showed the planting and delivery of a 100 year-old olive tree that was presented by KKL-JNF to the Vatican. The tree, which came from Ashdod, was removed from the soil while paying special attention to its long and strong roots. It was then loaded onto a container and shipped to the Vatican gardens. This ancient tree is a message for peace and hope to strengthen the interfaith dialogue, as Cardinal Martini wished.
In his comments, Joseph Gosselin mentioned that Pope Francis also planted a tree in Israel. In addition, Patriarch Bartholomew always encouraged Christians from the Orthodox Church to plant trees in Israel, as the prophet Isaiah said: “I will make the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive, to grow in the wilderness.” He encouraged the audience to act accordingly, and thanked KKL-JNF for the work it has been doing for more than a century.
Monsignor Fumagalli displayed ancient manuscripts that describe Creation from the Ambrosiana Library, which are dated to 1600 and have illustrations that highlight the importance of nature and of planting trees. Monsignor Fumagalli also spoke about Abraham’s tent, which was said to have openings on all four sides in order to welcome people coming from all directions.
Shariel Gun was inscribed in the KKL-JNF Book of Honor for his excellent work at EXPO 2015.
At the end of the event, Shariel Gun and KKL-JNF Director for International Cooperation and Conferences Karine Bolton took leave of the audience. This was the last of many succesful events during which KKL-JNF presented a different face of the extraordinary land of Israel, one that unfortunately was not familiar to many Expo visitors. The evening concluded with the singing of Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, which was led by Rabbi Elia Richetti.