Every year, the feast day of St John the Baptist is an occasion for the community of Ain Karem citizens to meet the Franciscan friars who look after the shrines linked to the life of the precursor of Christ. On 25 June, the convent of St John in the Mountain opened its doors for a day to discover the figure of the Saint, organized by the Custody of the Holy Land, in collaboration with the Town Council of Ain Karem. Alon Orion, head of the Council, who for many years has been committed to holding this encounter between Jews and local Christians, was also present.
Fr. DobromirJasztal, Vicar of the Custody fo the Holy Land, welcomed the visitors and then various experts spoke to shed further light on the figure of John the Baptist. Yisca Harani, a teacher, consultant and researcher, spoke about baptism in the different Churches and in different religions, while Prof. Rehav Rubin of the Research Institute on Eretz Israel, Yad Ben-Zvi, related how the pilgrimage to Ain Karem was conceived in the late Middle Ages. Ayelet Orpaz, a teacher and tour guide trainer, explained the habits related to hair and tonsure in Biblical and Christian monasticism and then Dr. Lior Chen, head of the department of social studies of the Israeli Parks Authority, illustrated the baptismal sites along the Jordan River in the current period.
Fr. Marco Carrara, Secretary of Holy Land, closed the meeting, talking about his experience as a Franciscan friar in the Holy Land. “I spoke about my path of formation as a Franciscan friar of the Custody,” Fr Marco explained, “and the people asked me to give more details about the reason for my decision and my emotions along the way.” Other things that aroused the curiosity of the participants was also the “typical day” of a friar and the occupations of the religious on a day to day basis.
The initiative was highly successful this year and there was a large participation. The host for the day was the Guardian of the convent of St John in the Mountain, Fr. Wojciech Bołoz, together with Fr. Severino Lubecki, who is in charge of the accommodation for pilgrims, and who prepared some refreshments. To conclude the day, the Magnificat Institute, the music school of the Custody of the Holy Land, offered a short concert in the church, conducted by Fr. Alberto Joan Pari, director of the Magnificat.
“Our friendship with the Franciscans started in 2015 and continues today with the friars of the convent of Ain Karem and with the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton,” Alon Orion, head of the town council of Ain Karem explained. “In 2017, on the feast-day of St John the Baptist, we started to meet every year and then the Custos asked us to organize an appointment with the local community at Christmas.” After the year of Coronavirus, this year the initiative of a day for the community of Ain Karem was replicated, to look at the figure of John the Baptist in greater detail. “On this special day. People are able to go into the convent and get to know the Franciscans, who for me are an example of hospitality, friendship and simplicity,” Alon Orion concluded. “The last speaker, Fr. Marco, who told us about his experience, was very important, because when people have the opportunity of getting to know one another, it is more difficult to hate and it is easier to love.”