Pope Francis to plant a new olivet tree at Gethsemane, Jerusalem

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Pope Francis to plant a new olivet tree at Gethsemane, Jerusalem

terrasanta.net

Following the gesture of Paul VI during his 1964 Holy Land pilgrimage, Pope Francis will plant an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane as a symbolic gesture, a forerunner of peace and prosperity for the Holy Land. For fifty years, pilgrims have been able to see the olive tree planted by Paul VI in the sacred enclosure that also holds the eight thousand-year-old olive trees that recall the Passion of Christ. In the afternoon of Monday, May 26, after a meeting with consecrated brothers and sisters that will take place inside the basilica, Pope Francis will move to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he will plant his olive tree a few meters away from Paul VI’s.

“This tree is a symbol of peace, and we all hope that the pontiff’s visit will bring forth the fruit of peace,” says Fr. José Benito Choque, a Franciscan of the Custody of the Holy Land who is responsible for the sanctuary and, like the pope, is from Argentina. “The tree that the pope will plant,” he continued, “is a gift from the Churches of the Holy Land. It is a Palestinian tree.” The olive tree is not the first gift that the pope has received from Gethsemane. In Saint Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday a few weeks ago, Francis consecrated oil that had been pressed from olives gathered from the trees next to the Basilica of the Agony.

The sapling reserved for the pope was not chosen haphazardly. It has been grown from a cutting from one of the eight very old trees in the garden: “special” olive trees that in recent years have been the subject of intense study by the Italian National Research Council (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche or CNR), with results published in 2012. CNR researchers noted that the oldest trees date from the twelfth century and are, therefore, about 900 years old. These are important scientific data, confirmed by a historical fact: renovations of the basilica and adjacent garden that were undertaken between 1150 and 1170 by the Crusaders who had just captured Jerusalem.

Genetic fingerprinting also confirmed that the eight trees have an “identical genetic profile”. This extraordinary fact can be explained by supposing that the Crusaders rearranged the garden in the twelfth century by planting a number of cuttings or branches that were all taken from a single older “father” tree that had the original DNA. Why the Crusaders chose one tree from among the others to replant their sacred garden of Gethsemane remains a mystery. It is certain that they considered the “father” tree to be highly valuable, perhaps for religious reasons. In that case, it would certainly have been a very old tree, perhaps one believed to have been present in the time of Jesus.

The olive tree that Pope Francis will plant on May 26th, then, will have the same DNA as the other trees in the garden, thus guaranteeing the integrity and continuity of the site’s genetic heritage.

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 19:50
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