Church in Jerusalem welcomes new consecrated member

The sole commitment these consecrated women make is the “resolution of chastity,” which they express during the Rite of Consecration. The only symbol they wear is a ring, emphasizing the spousal character of this vocation, which reflects the mystery of the Church as “Bride of Christ.” Engraved in Ruiz’s ring is an inscription in Hebrew meaning “O my life,” referring to Christ, and the date of her consecration.

Iconographer María Ruiz Rodríguez on her terrace looking at the horizon. In the background are the walls of Jerusalem and the outline of the Basilica of the Dormition, November 2023. Credit: Marinella Bandini

Women who consecrate themselves in the Ordo Virginum support themselves through their jobs. Ruiz is an iconographer and has been working for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for about four years. She was drawn into a project aimed at renewing liturgical books — the Missal and the Evangeliary — with her artwork.

“I first approached iconographic art when I was a nun. It was first of all a spiritual journey, a path of prayer. More than an artistic expression, an icon is a profession of faith. Before beginning the work, I invoke the Holy Spirit and ask for forgiveness for my own sins and for those who will venerate these images. I was interested in this dimension of relationship,” Ruiz shared. She spent a year researching the style and colors.

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“The patriarch asked me to create something that would speak to local Christians, who are Latin by tradition but Eastern by culture. A style that was uniquely mine yet rich in the entire iconographic tradition of the Church of Jerusalem. The art of Armenian manuscripts certainly had a significant influence on me.”

Iconographer María Ruiz Rodríguez at work in her studio. Currently, Ruíz is in the process of creating the images for the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Credit: Marinella Bandini

The patriarch takes a personal interest in overseeing Ruiz’s work. “We read the Gospel together and choose which scenes to represent, taking into account the particularity of each evangelist. He particularly enjoys highlighting passages that are less frequently represented in the artistic tradition. This is a project close to his heart,” she told CNA.  

Currently, Ruíz is in the process of creating images for the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. 

“The process is very laborious and involves multiple stages for each page: the pencil lettering, the crafting of the icons, then the ink lettering and finally the gilding.” The plan is for a volume of about 200 pages with 250 images. 

“Making this work in Jerusalem has a special value: I can visit the places where that Gospel was lived” but also “immerse myself in Jewish culture,” she said. “This has opened my eyes to the richness that Judaism brings to Christianity. There is a perfect continuity and at the same time an unprecedented newness in the person of Christ.”

The Church of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem full of people on Nov. 1, 2023, for the Mass of consecration of María Ruiz Rodríguez in the Ordo Virginum. Credit: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

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Ruiz learned the local languages — Arabic and Hebrew. The Mass of her consecration brought together within one place all the diverse “souls” of the Jerusalem Church: priests, friars, religious, and laity, Arab Christians and Hebrew-speaking Christians, each hearing the word of God in their own language. There were migrants, foreigners, Jews, and Christians of various denominations. 

The culminating moment of María Ruiz Rodríguez’s consecration in the Ordo Virginum. The celebration took place on Nov. 1, 2023, in the Church of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Credit: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

“I believe my being a foreigner is a blessing for this Church,” Ruiz said. “Why were there such different people in the church that day? Because I am neither Arab nor Jewish, and this allows me to bring both of these peoples into my heart together. In the praise of God we were one people, transcending the divisions that usually separate us. The Church in Jerusalem also needs this, to remember its universal vocation.” 

Group photo at the end of the Mass of consecration of María Ruiz Rodríguez in the Ordo Virginum. With her (in the middle, with red shirt) there are other members of the Ordo Virginum, and the bishops of the Latin patriarchate of Jerusalem (from left to right: Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, bishop emeritus; Monsignor William Shomali, general vicar and patriarchal vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine; Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem; Monsignor Rafic Nahra, patriarcal vicar for Israel). Credit: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

With her consecration, Ruiz embarks on her new journey as a “living stone” of the Jerusalem Church: “I am certain that I am finally in the right place. It is not an act of heroism. I am simply where God wants me to be.”