Since the beginning of April, the city of Washington, D.C. (known also as the District of Columbia) has been under rigid shut-down by the order of the city’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser. The Mayor’s order specifies that residents may only leave their residences to “engage in essential activities, including obtaining medical care that cannot be provided through telehealth and obtaining food and essential household goods; perform or access essential governmental functions; work at essential businesses; engage in essential travel; or engage in allowable recreational activities, as defined by the Mayor’s order.”
The last-named exception has meant that the gardens of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land have become a welcome refuge for hundreds of residents of the region. Coincidentally, as these visitors enter the grounds, they are discovering its trees and flowers in the full bloom of spring.
Franciscan Father Larry Dunham, guardian of the Monastery, notes that “for several years, we have attempted to ‘market’” the Monastery as ‘An Oasis of Peace.’ He adds, “Boy—has that ever become a much-needed reality in these days. So many people have thanked the friars for keeping our grounds open and providing them with such Franciscan beauty and peace.”
Many of the visitors to the garden are parents accompanying their children—toddlers freed from the walls of home or bundled in carriages. Couples—old and young—stroll through the upper and lower gardens, and walk the Rosary Portico. As per the mayor’s order, all are keeping a “social distance” of six feet; some arrive wearing masks.
Visitors, as Fr. Larry says, have found the gardens a blessing for the community. One couple, members of the Baháʼí faith, told a friar that their calendar has a springtime feast normally celebrated in a garden setting by members of the community. Since a large gathering was not possible, they were grateful that the two of them could bring their son to the Monastery gardens.
Fr. Larry concludes, “Maybe our grounds and gardens are more a ministry than we realize.”
The Monastery gardens and its outdoor replica of the Portiuncula Chapel are open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.