Like every year, from the first day of Ramadan, you can find him outside the Latin parish church of Jericho wearing his Franciscan habit: Fr. Mario Hadchiti, the parish priest of the Latin church of the Good Shepherd of Jericho and head teacher of the Holy Land School. Just before it is time for the iftar, the meal with which the Muslims break their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan, Fr. Mario distributes water and dates to passers-by. For those who are hurrying home or are late, receiving a glass of water and a date is a way to break the long and tiring hours spent without eating or drinking. “I believe that as Jesus was incarnated, we too must incarnate love for the other,” Fr. Mario explains. “With this gesture, we want to say that, as Christians, we are peaceful and we love everyone, without any distinction.”. According to the Franciscan friar of the Custody of the Holy Land, his is a gesture which allows “breaking the ice” and being close to Muslims in this time of prayer and fasting.
“I also know the sacrifice and the benefits of fasting,” the friar continues. “Those who pray and fast do it for God and I feel I can say thank you to those who dedicate time to God. The encyclical of the Pope, “Fratelli tutti” has given me courage and we want to incarnate the Holy Father’s message. We only have one God, we live in one land and it is a “large house” that is big enough for us all. We also want to apply what Pope Francis said in daily life.”
The hope is that a sign of closeness by Christians for Muslins during Ramadan can also be replicated elsewhere: “Here in Jericho we repeat this gesture every year and we would also like others to learn from us, from Jericho that is the oldest city in the world. They have imitated us in many other countries, because love is infectious, This is a Franciscan gesture.”
For Fr. Mario the peaceful coexistence with Muslims is a daily reality since when he has been in Jericho. “The Holy Land school of which I am the head teacher is the largest in Jericho,” the friar explains, “Out of 900 pupils, only 39 are Christians, but we do not make any distinctions. The school is a place of education and we educate according to the teachings of Jesus and according to the indications established for the place where we are. We are all children of God and outs is a Franciscan mission at the service of the people.”
The Coronavirus pandemic has also had a harsh impact on Jericho and since last August has forced the school to alternate online lessons with lessons in presence for small groups. “At school there are orphans, families who no longer have work or a salary and, even those who worked in the souvenir and tourism sector are in difficulty. Although we only receive few payments of the school fees, we are still on our feet. We carry on, diplomatically, fraternally and humanly.” The school reopened with the children up to eleven, from pre-school to the sixth grade, present at the lessons only a few days ago, while the others will continue their lessons online.
Fr. Mario continues his tireless work every day alongside the needy of Jericho, including distributing medicine, good, support for families in difficulty, but without forgetting the spiritual part. The Latin parish of the Good Shepherd is a point of reference for the local Christians and the parish priest goes personally to distribute communion to the sick and the suffering, so that when people meet him in the street, they greet him with affection and gratitude.
Thanks to his helpfulness and example of brotherhood, his relations are also excellent with Sheikh Harb, the Imam of the mosque of Jericho. Outside the church of the Good Shepherd, a photo shows him next to Fr. Mario, together with the words: “Fr. Mario, parish priest of the Latin church of Jericho and head teacher of the Holy Land School wishes you a Ramadan full of blessings.”