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Magdala Center to link Religions, Cultures in the Galilee

Father Solana next to the stone dedicated by Pope Benedict for the Magdala Center

A new audacious project being planned in the Galilee combining accommodations and archaeology will serve more than just the practical needs of travelers, but will be a link between religions, cultures and time, according to the visionary behind the idea.

The Magdala Center, which began with the idea of offering hospitality to travelers in the Galilee, is situated on an archaeological site dating back to the time of Jesus – a find that will be integrated into the location’s expanded blueprint.

“The beginning of Christianity happened there, the first disciples of Jesus became the Church and that happened in that area,” said Father Juan Solana, Charge of the Holy See at Notre Dame in Jerusalem. “It is an important link between Judaism and Christianity. I hope, as it was at that time, it could be now.”

When Solana came to manage Notre Dame, a Catholic center and guesthouse, in 2004, he quickly ascertained the situation: “Pilgrimages have two different stops – the Galilee and Jerusalem.”

“We’re all set in Jerusalem,” he noted in an interview with Travelujah (http://www.travelujah.com), the only Christian social networking site focusing on travel to the Holy Land. “We need something in the Galilee.”

So Solana set to work looking for land in the Galilee to accommodate pilgrims. The land he chose happened to contain a treasure: Buried under years of civilization was an ancient city with a synagogue, possibly a marketplace, homes and clues to a town that existed during the time of Jesus.

“God helped us as we found the proper place in Migdal for Christians and Jews as well.”

For Christians, the setting of Migdal, or Magdala, is important as central to Jesus’ ministry and the region from which Mary Magdalene hailed. For Jews, the discovery of a synagogue and the location there of the revolt during the Roman period are crucial bits of history.

Solana had always wanted the Galilee site to expand upon the goal of Notre Dame, to encourage dialogue and understanding between Christians and Jews.

“The discovery of the synagogue was further confirmation of that and we hope that it will foster our goals in that sense,” he said. “We were fortunate enough to find this place; the archaeological findings confirmed the mission.”

When it is completed, the Magdala Center will host a Christian guesthouse, called Notre Dame of the Galilee, with 130 rooms, a multimedia center and an archaeological site open to the public that will be of interest to Christians, Jews and all students of history.

The archaeological site was discovered during construction on the site in August. The synagogue will take about another year to uncover completely and the rest of the city will take around three years. Solana hopes to inaugurate the hotel on July 22, 2012, the Celebration of Mary Magdalene.

The site is located between the city of Tiberias and Kibbutz Ginossar and is a large lakefront property.

In the meantime, Notre Dame is looking for volunteers to help excavate the site. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), in conjunction with two Mexican universities, is overseeing the dig and this is the first time Mexican universities received a license to manage a dig in the Holy Land.

The synagogue on the site, Solana said, appeared to have been constructed by wealthy patrons between 50 BC to 100 AD. It contains mosaics, a carved stone menorah and frescoes. It is one of only seven in the world unearthed from the same period, according to the IAA.

Solana said he is also working with biblical scholars to see if there is a link between Magdala and the events in Jesus’ life. For example, Jesus’ encounter with Jarius, a synagogue ruler, and with the woman with the issue of blood, is traditionally believed to have happened in Capernaum. Solana asks, what if this happened in Magdala or if Mary Magdalene herself was the woman with the issue of blood?

Although it is barely mentioned in the Bible, Magdala was one of the larger of the cities in the Galilee at the time of Jesus. According to Jewish historian Josephus Flavius it had a population of 40,000 at the time of the first Jewish revolt (66-70 AD).

The find is appealing for locals and tourists alike. Solana said pilgrimage to the Holy Land uncovers biblical treasures such as Magdala that help believers grow in their faith. The Holy Land, he said, is the fifth gospel. It adds the setting, light, weather and natural environment to the other four gospels.

“We know usually by listening, but when you come you see things in their place, it’s like going from a black and white TV to a 3D plasma screen,” he described.

“There are many things special in Israel as far as religion is concerned,” he said. “There are strong deep traditions, different religions and a long story as far as religion and culture is concerned.” And of course the source of Christianity is here. The more I know about Judaism, the more I know Christianity. And vice versa, I think.”

Nicole Jansezian, Assist News Service

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