It was identified by the Crusaders as the city of Arimathea mentioned in the Gospel: it is Ramle, twenty kilometres from Jaffa and forty from Jerusalem. Considered for a long time as a stopping place by many pilgrims on their journey, the Franciscan presence in Ramle dates back to 1296. Today’s Latin church is dedicated to St Joseph of Arimathea, the man who offered a new tomb where Jesus could be buried (cf. Matt 27,57-60; John 19,38-42), while a side chapel is dedicated to St Nicodemus, the other hidden disciple of Jesus, who was also associated with his burial (cf. John 19,39).
“The calendar of the Catholic Church puts the feast of St Nicodemus and St Joseph of Arimathea on 31st August, but we of the Church of the Holy Land asked the Latin Patriarch to link this feast-day with Easter, because the two saints are related to the burial of Christ and the Resurrection.” This is how Fr. Abdel Masih Fahim explains the reason for the joy of these days in the Latin church of Ramle, of which he is the parish priest. The feast-day of the two saints was celebrated on the Saturday of the third week of Easter, thanks to a decree of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. “The feast-day this year included a solemn mass and activities for the children of the catechism and for youngsters. We have a band for the parish and they prepared special songs for this celebration,” the parish priest continued.
Fr. Abdel Masih Fahim, with the help of Fr. Antonios Habib, runs the life of the Franciscan convent. “Our parish is respected by the whole city and we have good relations with everyone. There are lots of activities that make our school and our parish a very lively place,” explained the friar. Ramle can count on one of the oldest schools run by the Franciscans of the Holy Land, in existence since 1728. Today 365 students, from the fourth year to the second year (from the ages of 9 to 18) study at the Holy Land School, while the primary school is run by the sisters of St Joseph. “58% of the students are Christians, even though we are a minority in Ramle,” explained Fr. Abdel Masih who is also the head teacher of the school. “Here in the city there are about 4000 Christians (1400 Latins, 300 Greek-Catholics and then other confessions), 16,000 Muslims and 53,000 Jews.”.
In this multi-religious environment, the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land always try to have good relations with everyone, based on brotherhood and mutual respect. Initiatives have been carried on in Ramle as well now for some time to educate on dialogue and bear witness to fraternal love. “From 5th May onwards we will be inviting some classes of students to return to our Holy Land School in turn, to take the iftar meal, that breaks the fast of Ramadan, together,” continued the priest. This moment will be shared by Muslim and Christian youngsters and, if they want, by some Jewish teachers as well. This way, on the Jewish holidays as well, dialogue and an invitation to share continue every year for the parish priest of Ramle. Before the Corona virus pandemic, there was also an inter-religious group which met periodically and which will resume meeting as soon as possible.
In addition to the school, every week about 130 children attend the Latin church for the catechism group, as well as 80 young people of the group of Franciscan Youth and those who follow the spiritual activity of the Legio Mariae.
“St Nicodemus and St Joseph of Arimathea were members of the Sanhedrin which condemned Jesus, but they had the courage to go at night to speak to him directly,” recalled Fr. Abdel Masih. “St Joseph of Arimathea offered a burial place to Jesus and both Saints are important because they carried out an act of mercy towards the crucified Jesus. We also ought to learn from them.”
Watch the video and the pictures of the feast of the latin parish in Ramle