About one hundred people: this is the number of participants in the Franciscan March, the experience of a walk offered by the Youth Pastoral care of the Friars Minor of the Custody of the Holy Land to young people between the ages of 17 and 27.
The theme of the March is “Encounters which lead to You” and during the week, the young people examine the various aspects of the encounters in the life of St Francis, which were all experiences that allowed him to take one further step towards God. The encounter with himself in prison, the encounter with the leper, with the crucifix of St Damian, with the wolf and, lastly, the encounter with the Sultan and the one with the angel when he received the Stigmata. The youngsters, from Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Jerusalem, Ramleh, Nazareth, Abilene, and, for the first time, also from Janine, have an experience which is not only spiritual but also physical. Six hours of walking a day await them to complete the route which includes various stops in Galilee, including Cana, where they start off from, Nazareth, where they have experience of evangelization and then the arrival at Mount Tabor on 2 August, on the occasion of the Pardon of Assisi. At Mount Tabor the experience is not only of giving thanks but also penitential: it is there where the Lord is encountered face to face that the young pilgrims will be able to adore Jesus in the Eucharist and do other activities before saying goodbye. "This is the 29th March, considering the years of intifada and insecurity in the land: we can say that it is a tradition that has been going on for more than 30 years and which has always borne many good fruits,” said Fr. Emad Rofael, in charge of Youth Pastoral care at the Custody of the Holy Land.
There are two new elements in this year’s March: the final celebration by the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Mons. PierbattistaPizzaballa, and the creation of the official anthem of the March, by some young Christian Palestinians. Milad Willard Fatouleh, a music teacher at the Terra Santa School, lent his voice for the anthem. "When I received Fr. Emad’s request to sing the anthem of the March I felt really proud,” said Milad. "It was also a challenge but we were able to write it in less than 10 days working non-stop together with the author, the composer and, lastly, the musicians."
The Custos of the Holy Land Fr. Francesco Patton was also present for the opening, meeting the youngsters before the Celebration of the Eucharist which he presided at the Wedding Church at Cana, “It is a particularly intense experience for young people both because the dimension of the physical walk which helps to open themselves up is present but also because it contains the combination of “commitment and joy”: the young people discover that committing themselves is something that offers joy and naturally they do so from a Christian perspective," explained the Custos. "The March also helps them feel that our being Christians is not a burden and boring, but something lovely, fascinating and joyous as well."
The youngsters include George Bael, a student at the University of Bethlehem at his third experience of the Franciscan March. "The Franciscan March is an experience that takes me to Jesus; usually it is as though my life and that of Jesus go along two different lines that here become closer and closer and, in the end, meet," says George enthusiastically. "I would recommend this experience to all youngsters: do not hesitate, jump into this walk with both feet and you will find that Jesus is waiting for you."