For the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, the first Sunday after the Epiphany is a day of pilgrimage to the River Jordan. On Sunday 12th January, they celebrated the feast of the Lord’s Baptism on the spot where, according to tradition, the episode described in the Gospels took place. The Mass was held on the bank east of Jericho on the site of Qasr al-Yahud, (“the Jews’ rock”), but the same moment in the life of Jesus was recalled on the other bank of the river on the site of Bethany Beyond the Jordan.
Before going to the site of the Baptism, the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land stopped at the Convent of the Good Shepherd in Jericho, where they met the local civil and religious authorities. The mayor, the governor and the imam of the Mosque of Jericho spoke in the presence of the diplomatic delegations of Italy, France and Spain and the parish priest Fr. Mario Maria Hadchiti. “Today we are here to recall what happened two thousand years ago on the banks of the River Jordan,” said Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, “and we are here to pray for peace, for the well-being of the local population and for the prosperity of Jericho and its inhabitants.” The Custos recalled the positive collaboration between all the local institutions which allows the Terra Sancta School of Jericho and the youth centre to continue to grow every year.
The friars of the Custody then went in a procession to the site of the Baptism of Jesus, where Holy Mass was held in Arabic, with the participation of faithful and pilgrims from all over the Holy Land. During the celebration, a baby girl was baptized, exactly on the bank where St John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
In his homily, Fr. Mario Hadchiti, the parish priest of Jericho, said that in front of man’s difficulty to imitate Christ, due to his weaknesses, it is important to look at the example of John the Baptist, who defended the weak and defended humanity from sin by giving a message of conversion, “John indicated Jesus as the Messiah,” he explained. “Like him, we also have to look to Jesus in our lives, to then defend the weak and those who need us.”
As tradition has it, on the day of the Baptism of Jesus, the Franciscans also went in pilgrimage to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Temptation near Jericho. After having been abandoned for years, the monastery became active again at the end of the 19th century. It has been recognized for centuries as the site of the Mount of Temptation of Jesus and this is why the pilgrimage concluded with the reading of the piece from the Gospels.