Jerusalem, Israel, Jun 4, 2014 / 04:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem has consecrated a church at the inauguration of the Magdala Center, an archaeological park in Mary Magdalene’s hometown that contains a first century synagogue where Jesus Christ may have preached.
“I hope that, for the thousands of pilgrims who visit this place, it will be an opportunity to experience God made man who walked in these lands,” Patriarch Twal said May 28 at the Duc in Altum Church near the Israeli city of Migdal.
Four bishops and about 40 priests concelebrated the dedication Mass. Representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Church of Scotland and other Christian churches attended, as did several Jews, the Legion of Christ reports.
Pope Francis had blessed the church’s tabernacle during his visit to the Holy Land.
Magdala Center director Fr. Juan Solana, L.C., and the architect Rodolfo de la Garza gave the keys of the new church to Patriarch Twal, who thanked the Legion of Christ for their contributions.
The center, run by the Legion of Christ, aims to provide places of worship and hospitality for pilgrims. It will serve as a place for spiritual and interfaith dialogue, the Magdala Center’s website says. Planners intend the center to have a cultural and social impact, providing local jobs while hosting seminars and conferences.
The Magdala Center has four Catholic chapels, a spirituality center and a chapel for all faiths in addition to the church and the archaeological park.
The archaeological park inauguration took place in the ruins of the synagogue, which was uncovered in 2009.
About 600 people, including representatives of the different Christian groups in the Holy Land, Muslim representatives, and Israeli government officials attended the dedication. Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custos of the Holy Land, was also present.
Archaeologists working in the synagogue’s main hall discovered an unusual carving of a seven branched menorah. Researchers believe that it was carved by an artist who had visited the Second Temple before its destruction in the first century. The synagogue’s walls also had frescoes with vivid colors, CNN reported in 2009.
“The archeological discoveries of this center unite us to both Jews and Christians,” Fr. Solana said.
Israel Ambrosi, the mayor of Migdal, encouraged those gathered to continue to seek cooperation between Jews and Christians. He called the new site a blessing for the city.
A Melkite priest read in Greek a gospel passage about Jesus’ preaching in the synagogues and curing the sick. Several Legion of Christ seminarians performed music during the dedication.
Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, the apostolic nuncio to Israel, cut the yellow ribbon dedicating the park.
Dr. Gideon Talgam, sub-director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, told those gathered that the project “has fallen into the best hands possible.”
“The developer and the archeologists have worked together,” he said, noting that the Mexican universities Universidad Anáhuac del Sur and the Universidad Autónoma de México both worked on the investigation. The site has helped reveal the relationship between Jews and early Christians.
“This is something unique,” Talgam said.
Fr. Solana said the Magdala Center is “called to foster reflection on the role of women in the Church and in society.”
The Duc in Altum Church chapel takes inspiration from Jesus’ ministry on the Sea of Galilee and from the role of women in evangelization.
“We believe that, just as Mary Magdalene experienced God’s mercy, as well many pilgrims will experience the love of God,” Fr. Solana said.
A name from a woman in the Gospel is featured on each pillar in the chapel atrium, except for one pillar that is empty.
De la Garza said that empty pillar is “dedicated to all the women who are pillars in their own families and who hand on the faith.”
The Magdala Center project hopes to add a hotel for pilgrims and a restaurant, though Fr. Solana said more funds are needed to complete these plans.
The Magdala Center website is at www.magdalacenter.com.