A numerous group of young people, together with the political and religious authorities, have inaugurated a new youth centre in Jericho. On 9 March, close to the Terra Sancta School in Jericho, a large group of VIPS, surrounded by cameramen and photographers, witnessed the rite of the cutting of the ribbon outside the building, which marked the official beginning of the activities of the Centre. Among the authorities present were the Custos of the Holy Land Fr. Francesco Patton, the head of the Good Shepherd club, Basem Abedrabbo, the Mayor of Jericho Mohammad Jalayta, the President of the Palestinian Superior Council for young people and sports Jibril Rajoub, the Vice-Director of USAID Jonathan Kamin (for the West Bank and Gaza), and the Director of ANERA Paul Butler.
USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid) have, in fact, contributed materially to the realisation of this new space for young people. The use of this area has been rendered possible through the kind services of the Franciscan Friars. The Custos Fr. Patton explained: «The territory on which this Centre has been built is property of the Custody of the Holy Land, but it will be of service to the entire town of Jericho, as has already happened in the case of the school. The policies of the Custody are never auto-referential. We aim to take care of the small Christian community present in this place, while remaining open to the local community, and in this case to the Muslim majority. In the case of this Centre we follow the same principles that have been applied in the case of the students of our school. This will be a centre open to Christian and Muslim young people: it will become a school of peaceful co-existence».
The Centre will be open to receive young people who reside in the area of Jericho. It welcomes young people from 14 to 29 years of age, and offers free of charge courses in art, computer, theatre, sports activities, and courses on mass media. The building of the Centre has created nearly 570 temporary jobs for Palestinians. In the long run it will offer new opportunities for local young people, helping them to develop their personality, to learn how to interact, and to be formed and prepared to work. Smiling at those present for the occasion, the Custos said: «The Custody of the Holy Land is happy when it can offer its presence and experience in favour of projects such as this. Here lies one of the secrets that have made possible eight centuries of Franciscan presence, namely, the ability and willingness to be at the service of all.»
Fr. Mario Hadchity, Guardian of the Jericho fraternity and Director of Terra Sancta School, noted that: «Since 2014 we have started dialogue with USAID». The place on which this Centre has been built was the same place where the former school built in the 1950s used to stand. It has been demolished to create space for this Centre». Fr. Mario continued to say: «For centuries the Custody tries to be a bridge of peace, but we have also tried to work in such a way as to be a bridge for beauty. Beauty is a quality which every son and daughter of God merits. Beauty encourages growth and responsibility. It is a great responsibility to live in an environment which is beautiful and to cherish its beauty and pass it on to others.»
After the cutting of the ribbon, a simple ceremony took place in one of the halls of the Centre. The Palestinian authorities present thanked the Custos of the Holy Land and the representatives of USAID and ANERA. In his speech the Custos of the Holy Land insisted on the educational value of sports and culture. Before going up to the terrace for some light refreshments, two youngsters who will be volunteers at the Centre spoke about their experience. Fr. Mario Hadchity commented: «The fact that we are present here is for us a kind of satisfaction like winning a prize: we Christians are a minority, but we have become a point of reference to all.»
Beatrice Guarrera, Custodiae Terrae Sanctae