The Sunday of the “Good Shepherd” in Jericho

The Sunday of the “Good Shepherd” in Jericho

The peregrination of the friars of the Custody on the fourth Sunday of Easter and the centenary of the dedication of the church

On the fourth Sunday of Easter, called “of the Good Shepherd”, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land go to Jericho, to celebrate in the church dedicated to the "Good Shepherd". According to the gospel story, Jesus restored the sight of the blind Bartimaeus and converted Zacchaeus, the tax-collector, accomplishing his ministry of God Shepherd for them.

This year, the traditional peregrination was enriched by the celebration of the centenary of the dedication of the church and it was also an occasion to be particularly close to the “small Christian flock” of Jericho, comprising 500 faithful, both Catholics and Orthodox, very strained by the war underway.

Church in celebration

Fra Mario Hadchiti has been the parish priest of this church since 2012 as well as the superior of the Franciscan convent and head of the Terra Sancta School, which has about a thousand pupils (from 3 to 18) and is the only school in the city attended by both Christians and Muslims. He is always ready to welcome and open the doors. Today, for the celebration of the “Good Shepherd”, he has decorated the church and the esplanade in front of it with special care, and together with the faithful of the parish, he welcomed the Custos of the Holy Land, fra Francesco Patton, who presided over the Mass, and the friars from Jerusalem.

The Good Shepherd and the mercenary

In his homily, the Custos emphasized the great difference between the “Good Shepherd” and the “mercenary” of the gospel passage. Unlike the latter, who acts only according to his own interests, “the good shepherd acts driven by love for his flock, for each lamb and for each sheep in the flock. The good shepherd is the man who is willing to give even his life for his sheep and sacrifices himself for them.” Fra Francesco recalled that this Sunday is also dedicated to the prayer for vocations: “Jesus knows us one by one and calls each of us by name. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to open up the hearts of many young people so that they listen to the word of Jesus and answer his call.”

In the footsteps of the Good Shepherd

In an interview for the website of the Custody, Fra Mario speaks about his experience as a priest following the Good Shepherd: “I have learnt how to be a shepherd following the example of Jesus, how to take the first step towards the other. Jesus the Good Shepherd gave me the courage to face up to the many difficulties I encountered at the start of my mission in Jericho. I wondered how he resisted 40 days in this desert, in this place that is so hot and full of dust… In the past few years, I have celebrated seven marriages, which is very rare in Jericho, as there are very few Christians, I have done a few baptisms and I have seen those children grow up. I have been able to create a good relationship with the Muslim world, especially with the imam, and this friendship has become a fine testimony for everyone.”

A shepherd in times of war

Fra Mario has lived through many challenges with his faithful, the most recent one being the Covid pandemic. Today he is called to be at the side of his “flock,” exhausted by the war,  and take care of them. “In this very delicate period, my parishioners are very worried,” he says. Many of them are unemployed because they no longer have permission to work in Israel. Those who have businesses are in crisis because Jericho has been closed for a long time: as well as the lack of pilgrims, access to people from Jerusalem or Galilee has also been greatly limited, so commercial activities have been almost completely blocked. The children in particular have been very affected by this climate and some of them are very frightened.”

Looking for Jesus

In the face of all the challenges, fra Mario always tried to keep the doors open to welcome and console, but also help his faithful not to give up. “Jericho is linked to the memory of the blind Bartimaeus and the tax-collector Zacchaeus. Jesus healed their wounds, both physical and moral. Our lives, too,” he says, “is full of loneliness and blindness without Jesus. Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus teach us that we men must do our part: look for Jesus, never stop looking for Jesus, the real joy.”

Marinella Bandini