More than 160 young people walked through Wadi Qelt, the desert that surrounds Jericho, for the first part of the penitential retreat organized by the Youth Ministry of the Custody of the Holy Land entitled “Who Among You is Without Sin”: a physical and spiritual journey prompted by the Gospel reading for Sunday, April 7.
Led by the Franciscan Friars, the youth who participated in the retreat day came from Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Ramleh, Cana and other parts of Galilee. Under the scorching sun at 9 a.m., the youth began the day with morning prayer and read the day’s Gospel passage. Immediately afterwards, Fr. Emad Rofael, the head of Youth Ministry and associate pastor of St. Catherine’s parish in Bethlehem, took the floor and introduced the theme of the day. “We highlighted the quote by Pius XII who said, ‘the greatest sin of today is not perceiving the sense of sin,’” said Fr. Emad. “And using this concept we explained to the young people what sin is and how it is committed, inviting them to fight to overcome the evil one who tries to distance us from God and from His Mercy.”
The intense program included three pauses for reflection during the journey, where the youth listened to the Gospel passages set in the territory of Jericho: the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), the Healing of the Man who was Born Blind (John 9: 1 -40) and the episode of Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 1-26), read in the Coptic church that holds his tomb. “I think these gatherings are really great,” said George, 21, a Business Administration student, who lives in Bethlehem. “Here we have the opportunity to get to know each other, to practice our faith together, strengthen it and be one family, like the first Christians did. “The energy here is really positive and this also helps us grow in faith; every [gathering] is like taking one step forward.”
Immediately after arriving in Jericho and having lunch prepared by two volunteers and one of the Franciscan nuns from Bethlehem, the youth participated in Adoration and confessions in preparation for the Holy Mass which was celebrated by Fr. Francesco Patton, the Custos of the Holy Land . “These youth retreat initiatives are particularly important during this time of Lent,” said Fr. Patton. “In particular for two reasons: the first is that our young people need to understand that it is a vocation and a mission to be Christian and be young Christians here. The other reason is that the youth of the Holy Land must learn to understand that they, together with us, are the guardians of the holy places and that these places will only have a future if there are new generations who live in these places, who they pray in these places and testify to what it means to be Christians in these places. The retreats are a big help in rekindling this awareness within them.”
The next appointment for the youth, which was announced at the end of the Holy Mass, will be the Franciscan March entitled “Meetings that Bring Us to You,” which will depart on July 27 and arrive on Mount Tabor on August 3.