Friars’ Pilgrimage to the Jordan River: “Come, come to Jericho”

The Franciscans of the Custody went to the banks of the Jordan River to commemorate the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist. Before the Eucharist, they went to the Monastery of the Good Shepherd, where Fra Mario and Fra Anthony were waiting with coffee in the monastery’s lush garden for Fra Dobromir, the Custodian Vicar, city officials and the crowd of the faithful.

Fra Mario opened the festivities and then gave the floor to the regional governor, Majed Al Fatiani and to Dr. Saeb Erekat, who both expressed their joy of seeing Christians and Muslims together on Palestinian soil. Fra Dobromir, as the head of the Franciscan delegation, gave thanks for “this fruitful understanding between the friars in charge of the parish and the Muslim religious authorities of Jericho, without which the newest Terra Santa School would not have seen the light of day.”

On this day the friars recall that Jesus went through Jericho, this city that lies between oasis and desert, several times. On the bank of the Jordan River, the Eucharist celebrated by Fra Dobromir and Fra Mario—joining Italian and Arabic—assembled over five hundred pilgrims from surrounding parishes. In his vibrant homily, Fra Mario exclaimed, “We Christians must not be afraid: we are on our land, the land that Jesus walked. We return here in ever greater numbers; our Muslim and Jewish brethren must understand – it is our obligation.”

It will be remembered that since 1985 the site of the baptism of Jesus has again been made accessible. It had been closed after the Six-Day War, having become a mined military zone under Israeli control. Pilgrims could only visit on certain days and then only with a permit from the army.

Once the site was partially cleared of mines the Franciscans were once again able to include this procession in their liturgical calendar. Originally celebrated in the month of October, they have only been able to move memorial feast day to the liturgically appropriate date since January 2012.

After the homily the friars renewed their baptismal promises and several children were baptized with water from the Jordan, drawn directly from the river flowing next to the altar. There was a moment of great emotion when one of them, crying out a little at the touch of the water, was overflown by a white dove.

After the Mass, the Franciscans went to the Monastery of the Forty Days. Since the fourth century, Christians have venerated this site as the location of the temptation of Christ. An Orthodox monastery on the hillside commemorates the memory of this gospel event. After meeting with the small Greek Orthodox community there, the friars read the gospel and had a time of recollected prayer.

Most of the parishioners from Saint Saviour parish and the Jericho parish then joined the friars to share their meal at Good Shepherd Monastery. The garden took on a festive air with picnics on the grace, barbecues and music, visible joy and spirit of sharing between the Franciscans and the local Christians. The Franciscan community left the site in the middle of the afternoon, with warm thanks to everyone who had worked to make this day a time of spiritual and fraternal refreshment.

Emilie R.

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