In 1950, the Franciscans opened a “Terra Sancta School” in Jericho, which today is the only coed school in the city, and soon it will be the only school to enroll children from kindergarten to 12th grade. In the Palestinian spirit, the city is associated with rest and quiet. Besides, etymology reinforces this idea. In Canaanite, the word was “the perfumed one” or “yareah, the moon,” or the lunar deity “Yarikh,” for which the city was an early center of worship. Nevertheless, this “fragrant lunar” city is an oasis known for its bougainvillea, which is home today to a small Christian community.
“There were very few schools when we arrived,” said Br. Mario Hadchity, the school principal. The goal of the friars has always been to be among the people and at their service, especially in the field of education. “Knowledge is a light,” he explained, “whether in the Bible or in the Qur’an. ‘God gives me the knowledge,’ says the Koran (Sura Taahaa, aya 114) and in the Gospel, knowledge is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
From 1950 to 2013, the students had class in the old structure that was could no longer welcome students. Since December 2013, the new white stone building stands proudly on the main artery of the city. On its three floors, it hosts a new generation of young “Riyhaouis,” or the name for the inhabitants of Jericho.
“When I arrived in Jericho in 2013, I knew nothing about leading a school, and I asked the Holy Spirit to help me as one of his gifts is light and knowledge.” So, every year the school moved forward. “The people of Jericho are good by nature. However, they are accustomed to conforming to things as they are presented to them. They need to be motivated and encouraged in order to excel. I personally have an innovative spirit and I believe that educational progress has beginning but it has no end.”
This initial reorganizational phase began with the redesign of the administration. “I always start from the Gospel, even though we only have 36 Christian students of 580 total students. Love and equality are evangelical values.” Br. Mario stressed the importance of not differntiating between Muslims and Christians in the treatment of students.
“Today we have children from kindergarten to first grade and next year we hope to open a 12th-grade class so as to become the first school in Jericho where students can complete their entire schooling with us.”
For Br. Mario, Franciscan brotherhood is not limited to the parish and to the faithful, it is to be shared with the students. “It is true that I am the headmaster but I tell them that I am first of all their older brother, who has is owed respect and who has his say in things, as well as his own authority.”
“Jericho’s spiritual message is the support and encouragement of the will,” explained the friar. “Jesus, who has glory, fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. He endured heat, facing the devil. Zacchaeus faced obstacles and surpassed them, as did the blind man from Jericho who, in order to overcome the chaos of the crowd, shouted at the top of his lungs. Thus, the message of Jericho is one of perseverance and tenacity in personal effort.”
The school offers a spacious setting for the administration and students. Paintings by the students now brighten up the new walls. “Since 2012, the inhabitants have been becoming more familiar with the school and call it home. This school year (2015-2016), we have 90 new students including 50 new girls, which for the Terra Sancta School in Jericho is a success in and of itself.” It is a sign that parents trust the Franciscan habit. We are also the only coed school in the city because government schools are not coed.”
For Br. Mario, the school’s success is linked to the collective work of the administration, teachers and parents and for the trust they lend to administrative decisions. “I told them last year that every student who sets foot in the Terra Sancta is my child and it is my responsibility to think about their future and take care of them, no mater what their religion. I simply want to continue the Franciscan call that began in Jericho in 1950.”