During my study here at Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem, I took advantage of a free day to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Fr. Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne. Born to a Jewish family of bankers in 1814, Ratisbonne was highly critical of the Catholic faith and Marian apparitions. However, on January 20, 1842, when Ratisbonne visited the Basilica of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte in Rome, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and he was immediately converted. St. Maximilian M. Kolbe, OFM Conv. always marveled at Ratisbonne’s conversion and he celebrated his first Mass (April 29, 1918) at the “Altar of the Miracle” where Mary had appeared to Ratisbonne. Because the City of Jerusalem figured prominently in the apparition, Ratisbonne, who became a priest and missionary, headed to the Holy Land where he founded the Congrégation Notre Dame de Sion (the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion).Fr. Ratisbonne remained in the Holy Land until his death in 1884 and is buried in the cemetery of the sisters’ convent in Ein Karem. On the day I made my pilgrimage, I was met by one of the sisters, Sr. Régine Canetti, NDS. Born in Bulgaria (May 16, 1921) of Jewish parents, the family subsequently escaped the Shoah and, although Sr. Régine lost her mother and brother when their ship sank, she eventually made it to Israel, became Catholic and entered the Sisters of Zion. A remarkable woman, Sr. Régine’s inspiring life’s story made my pilgrimage to Fr. Ratisbonne’s tomb and Ein Karem truly unforgettable.
~ Fr. Jobe Abbass, OFM Conv. (M.I. Assistant for Our Lady of the Angels Province)