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HOLY LAND/ Jericho: A small Christian community and their school

In a community of 400 Christians in Jericho, two Franciscan friars work to educate and help the poor of the city. Father Ibrahim describes the situation and what is being accomplished.

Jericho Jericho

Jericho is a small oasis in the desert, known for the different miracles that Christ performed there. The Christian community of Jericho is the smallest of all those in the Palestinian Territories, and indeed among the smallest in all of the Middle East. The Christians, numbering about 400, are grouped principally around the Latin Parish of the Good Shepherd, where the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land are present.

The socio-economic situation in Jericho, as in the rest of the Palestinian territories, is very difficult, due to the high unemployment rate and the lack of basic public services. Those who most severely suffer the consequences of this are the large families, who frequently are unable to meet the essential needs of their own children and of the elderly within the community.

The Franciscan friars of the parish, in addition to providing spiritual guidance to the Christian community, seek to help meet the concrete difficulties facing these families. Below is a transcript of Pro Terra Sancta interview with Father Ibrahim, parish priest of the Church of the Good Shepherd and director of the Terra Santa School in Jericho. Before coming to Jericho, Fr Ibrahim worked at two missions, in Jordan and in Lebanon.

How many Christians are there in the ‘City of Palm Trees’? And of them, how many are Catholic?
Here in Jericho the Christian community makes up around 1% of the population. There are 370 of us out of a total population of 37,000. The Christians belong to two main denominations: Catholics (54 families) and Orthodox (30 families). There’s also a small Syriac Orthodox community (3 families).

Near to the Church of the Good Shepherd there’s a very large school building. How many children attend the school? Are they all Christians? What sort of things do they study there?

Since 1925 when the friars established themselves in Jericho, they’ve been thinking of ways to act as ‘light of the world’ and ‘salt of the Earth’ within the city. They found that there was great need in the field of education, and so they rented a small building near the church and opened a school for 100 pupils. This was how the Terra Santa School in Jericho began. Today, after more than sixty years, there are 470 pupils. Of those, just 6.2% are Christians, while the remaining 93.8% are Muslims.

And what about the other schools in the area?

Today there are 22 state schools in Jericho, as well as a few private schools. Along with the one run by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, ours is the only Christian school.

What sort of support does the school receive? And how is it all paid for?

We don’t receive any financial help from the Palestinian authorities, and given the economic circumstances of the local people we can only expect the children’s parents to pay fees that cover the bare minimum. The money they give us covers only around 25% of the teachers’ wages and activities and maintenance costs.