Father Giorgio Colombini: Hermitage History
“Give and give each day a stone after another…”
(from The San Damiano song)
Fr. Giorgio (Ermanno) Colombini was born in Modena (Italy) on 7 March 1928.
In 1977 he came to the Holy Land for a sabbatical year: a gift in appreciation of his 25 years of priesthood. That was a break after 15 years of serving as a parish priest in the Church of the Osservanza (Observation) in Cesena. Over this period of time he became fascinated by Jesus’ Land. On Pentecost day in 1982 he wrote to his Guardian (his superior):
“I wouldn’t mind taking part in a praying community: I heard about an initiative of this kind that failed to be fulfilled; I believe that a House of prayer in the Holy Land should be based on the Word of God and the richness of our Franciscan spirituality. Personally, I couldn’t organize all this, but I‘d love to have the opportunity to take part in it; if one day this is accomplished, it could be a point of reference for the religious people in the Holy Land.
This is how Fr. Giorgio started his service with the Custody of the Holy Land, a service that lasted 27 years all spent in Gethsemane, except for the first 8 months that were spent at the Holy Sepulchre, as it is customary. Slowly, his vocation and desire to unite prayer and pastoral action, together with the help and cooperation of the friary (Franciscan community) of the Church of the Agony, originated The ‘Hermitage of Gethsemane.’.
He wrote in a report of 1998:
My service basically consists of welcoming guests to the Hermitage, accompanying them to their private retreat, and then giving them a guided tour of the sanctuaries in Gethsemane. I am doing my best to accompany our guests in their prayer journey [...], but the most significant service – taking a lot of time and serenity - is the spiritual direction for those who express the desire for it: the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance, one-to-one talks…I can truly say that here at the Hermitage lots of people have found light and strength to make important decisions in their life; and this is undoubtedly the fruit of the grace of this Place, of prayer and - I would say - of the warm hospitality, acceptance and counselling, too that they have received here."
Year after year Father Giorgio took various initiatives and his prayer became more and more illuminating, helping the retreatants in living, appreciating and understanding the Mystery and spirituality of Gethsemane; he hosted “masters” to grasp the profundity of the Scriptures during the Lectio Divina (Latin for “Divine Reading”, “Scriptural Reading”), in significant moments of prayer and in times of preparation such as Advent and Lent. At the same time he would work hard to create an atmosphere of silence, prayer, concentration and meditation; he would also take care of the trees and plants: he brought over some gardeners from the Italian region of Puglia to help with their know-how, he had the drystone walls cemented to keep vipers out, and had small and comfy retreats built for retreatants to pray in.
This is how, after a long time, the sacred Place at the foot of the Mount of Olives - very dear to our Lord -, returned to be ‘The Garden’ where His disciples - past and present - can experience again the same joy, intimacy and familiarity with the Lord that the Divine Master experienced when withdrawing in the peace of Gethsemane.
His strong desire for a retreat to be set up in the ancient place called Gethsemane has therefore been fulfilled: Father Giorgio, encouraged by the Custody of the Holy Land, had prayed and worked hard with the support of many volunteers, devoting his time entirely to this project, with the perseverance of a prophet and the generosity of a lover. We greatly appreciate all he has done and are extremely grateful to his Province of Christ the King (Friars Minor in Bologna, Italy) and to all those who have cooperated with him to make this dream come true.
Special thanks are due to Daria Severgnini (Ordo Virginum Bergamo, Italy) for her presence and her continuous cooperation at Father Giorgio’s side: sharing ideals, hard work, efforts and hopes; with love and great care she served the Lord in the Hermitage for quite a long time: 17 years.
Today many people come across the Hermitage “by chance”, sometimes they are sent over by those who have been here before and have had some experience, they all come from all over the world. This tells about and confirms the Lord’s love for this Holy Place, where he continues calling his disciples to keep close to Him and show their love and intimacy in staying awake and praying with Him. Often we receive words of encouragement and support from Brasil, Switzerland, England, Spain, Italy, America and many other Countries.
Lots of people thank God for the experience they’ve had of Him here, and a close bond of affection has linked them with this Garden and those who live in.
We friars, who are serving our Lord today in Gethsemane, gratefully acknowledge that we are just picking the good fruits that Father Giorgio, Daria and many others had sown before.
But what is the actual reason why people make their way to this Place? And what exactly moves their hearts to make all their way to this Garden that is still expecting to be looked after with love?
The reason, or in other words the “Source”, that motivated us and Father Giorgio is the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, as the Gospel says, in this garden, pronouncing his “Yes” to the Father, made a decision to give His life for all of mankind: a love made of facts, not just words, unconditional love (free, unlimited, unrestricted and without reservation) that reaches all kind of situations and conditions of the human being and asks for our presence and support… “Remain here, stay awake and pray with me”.
Only if we go back to this Source, that generates and purifies everything, can we have some insight into what today connects and joins us to all those who, in the past, have stopped by, spent some time or lived in this Place.
I’d like to conclude reporting some of Father Giorgio’s quotes that he used to say:
- “• If all this hard work would help at least one person become closer to God…then it really was worth it!”
- “• Less words more Word of God”
- “• Gethsemane…is understood by those who experience it
Our dear Father Giorgio departed this life peacefully in Jerusalem on 11 May 2009. He is buried here in Gethsemane, his favourite place, awaiting the return of our Lord. He was 81 when he passed away, 26 years of his life were spent serving the Custody of the Holy Land.
Pictures below: Father Giorgio