The Franciscan community at Mount Nebo (Jordan) is 90 years old. The first friars of the Custody of the Holy Land settled here on 13 July 1933, after having purchased the land from some Bedouins. At their head was fr. Girolamo Mihaic, “abuna Germana”. According to tradition, it was from here that Moses saw the Promised Land – although not being able to enter it - and died. From the Siyagha peak of Mt. Nebo, the view opens up all around: “The Lord showed him all the land – Gilead, and as far as Dan, all Nphtali the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western SeaIl Signore gli mostrò tutta la terra: Gàlaad fino a Dan, tutto Nèftali, la terra di Èfraim e di Manasse, tutta la terra di Giuda fino al mare t e , the Negeb, the plain (the valley of Jericho, the City of Palms= and as far as Zoar” (Deut. 34, 1-3).
The community celebrates
The important anniversary of the Franciscan presence was celebrated “in the family” by the small Nebo community. The Custos of the Holy Land, fr. Francesco Patton, presided Mass in the sanctuary (Moses Memorial). The vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, fr. Ibrahim Faltas, fr. Rashid Mistrih, discreet of the Holy Land and guardian of the Amman convent, and some parish priests from Madaba concelebrated the Mass. In addition to the friar of the community the religious men and women of the Little Family of the Annunciation (Dossettians) and the consecrated women of the Sermig of Madaba were also present.
Moses and the kiss of God
In his homily, Fr. Patton quoted a Jewish story which relates the death of Moses, according to which, at the time of his death, on Nebo, “God kissed Moses and took his soul by a kiss of his mouth.”. The kiss as a seal of the promises of God: Moses did not enter the Promised Land but directly into communion with Him. “We ask for the grace to live in the light of Easter the moment of our personal encounter with the Lord, who calls us to him with a kiss, to introduce us into a communion of love that will never come to an end.”
Thanks to the archaeologists of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum – first Sylvester Saller and Bellarmino Bagatti, then Virgilio Corbo, Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata – the treasures of Nebo have come down to us, in particular the remains of the 4th century basilica – with the perfectly preserved mosaic – and those of the monastic complex, which was inhabited until the 9th century. The present-day basilica was built from the 1960s. The most recent restoration was concluded in 2016 and the memorial was reopened to the public.
Today the Franciscan community on Nebo is made up of three friars: fr. Bernard Thilagarajah (the guardian), fr. Ammar Shahin and fr. Ibrahim Pio Haddad. “Our mission is to be here, in the first place as a presence in the sanctuary,” fr. Bernard emphasized. “The pilgrims see that Franciscans are here and they often stop here to speak to us or to confess. We are here to welcome anyone who arrives, which is the essence of our Franciscan charisma.”
In the area of the sanctuary, restoration work is underway on some buildings, for small groups for retreats and spiritual exercises. The Custody is also the owner of Khirbat al-Mukhayyat, the other peak of Mount Nebo, known as the “city of Nebo”, just a few kilometres from the Memorial. The property also includes the remains of the churches of St George and of Saints Lot and Procopius. The latter houses one of the most representative and best preserved mosaics in Jordan, dated to the 6th century. The Custody’s projects also include allowing pilgrims to make better use and have easier access to this property.