Editor’s Note: CNS staffer Mark Pattison traveled to the Holy Land in September as part of a study tour sponsored by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and funded in part by the Catholic Communication Campaign. We will highlight his trip as the Vatican prepares for the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.
This is not meant to be an advertisement for the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, or “Vatican guesthouse” in more colloquial terms. But it’s a nice respite for weary travelers in an arid land.
Notre Dame is located across the street from Jerusalem’s Old City. Starting in 1882, it was run by French Assumptionists to be a center for French pilgrims. The center also doubled as a seminary until World War I.
However, during the Israeli-Arab war of 1948, two bombs struck Notre Dame, rendering part of it uninhabitable. The Israeli army used the center as a guard post. The Assumptionists used it as a shelter for refugees. Things slowly returned to normal, but it was a “new normal,” with far fewer pilgrims coming to stay there. In 1972, one year before yet another Arab-Israeli war, the Assumptionists turned over Notre Dame to the Vatican.
Pope Paul VI, who visited Jerusalem in 1964, made the rehabilitation of Notre Dame a pet project, but he did not live to see its completion. In December 1978, four months after Pope Paul’s death, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York promulgated a decree signed by Pope John Paul II making Notre Dame a pontifical institute and an ecumenical holy place and a center for public worship.
The 1987 intifada and the 1991 Persian Gulf War kept tourists away again. The second intifada, in 2000, nearly did in Notre Dame. It closed Sept. 1, 2001, 10 days before the terror attacks that struck the United States.
In November 2004, five months before his death, Pope John Paul issued a “motu proprio” entrusting the care of Notre Dame to the Legionaries of Christ.
They’ve certainly spiffed up the place. La Rotisserie, the restaurant attached to the guesthouse, is said to have the best Western food in Jerusalem and at a price better than its competition. But for roughly $160 a night, taking into account fluctuating currency exchange rates, travelers get a nicely appointed room. There’s a queen- or king-sized bed, a love seat, a coffeemaker, a hair dryer, and some rooms even have a flat-screen TV. On a coffee table there’s a dish of assorted fruits, a second dish with assorted cookies, a bottle of water and even a small bottle of merlot.
Drawbacks? One for sure: The Assumptionists probably hadn’t considered this in 1882, but the thick limestone walls of Notre Dame make it pretty darn tough to get a wi-fi connection.