At the Jordan River, rebirth in water and Spirit

(  On Sunday, January 10, the Franciscans of the Custody went to Jericho to commemorate Christ’s baptism. The Franciscans, led by the Custos, Br. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, as well as pilgrims, first made their way to the small Latin parish of the Good Shepherd. There, the Custos was welcomed by local authorities and various representatives of the Spanish, Italian, French and Belgian consulates.

Br. Mario Hadchiti’s words kicked off a series of speeches in the monastery’s large garden. Br. Mario insisted on the warm relationship between Christians and Muslims in Palestine, especially in Jericho. The Custos highlighted the importance of his side of this relationship, recalling that this day is a day of great importance for Christians because we commemorate Christ’s baptism but also because it is an opportunity for the renewal of baptismal vows for all Christians.

The buses then went toward the Jordan River. According to Christian tradition, Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3: 13-17) took place in this river, north of the Dead Sea and east of Jericho. The site, which borders Jordan, is located in a military zone, surrounded by minefields. It was partially refurbished and opened in 2011 by the Israeli Tourism Ministry so as to facilitate pilgrimages.

The procession from the Greek Orthodox monastery, located at the summit of the site of Qasser al-Yahud, to the banks of the river followed two different rhythms. Whereas the religious solemnly sang the Lauda Ierusalem, behind them the various Palestinian parishes sang at the top of their lungs and clapped their hands, alternating between songs dedicated to Christ and the Virgin Mary.

In a fusion of Italian and Arabic, the mass was presided over by the Custos. It brought together a large number of faithful from different parishes around the country, including several buses that came from Galilee, and a small number of pilgrims from around the world. “We are very lucky to be able to celebrate Christ’s baptism in the same place where it took place,” began Br. Mario in his homily. “We were born at a specific time and on a specific date, but baptism is a rebirth, the beginning of a path to eternal life, as it was taught to Nicodemus.” In his homily, the friar recalled that prayer was the only way to grow the seed planted in us at baptism, noting that in this year dedicated to mercy by the Pope, Christians should humble themselves, like St. John the Baptist did.

After the homily, the faithful renewed their baptismal vows, and two young girls from the Latin parish of Jericho were baptized with water drawn directly from the River Jordan, at the foot of the altar. The girls received the names Marie-Alphonsine and Mariam Baouardy, in honor of the two Palestinian saints who were canonized last year.

The Mass ended and the Franciscan community took the bus to Jericho. They had to carefully climb up the rough and rocky trail to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Quarantine, which is built into the hillside. Since the fourth century, Christians have honored this place as the location of the Temptation of Christ. At the door of the monastery, the friars read the Gospel and collected themselves before visiting the monastery and contemplating the panoramic view stretching from Jericho, the Jordan Valley and the Moab mountains.

The faithful from Saint Savior’s parish and from Jericho joined the friars for a delicious meal in the garden surrounded by fruit trees at the Good Shepherd Monastery.  (