Bethany the “home of friendship”: an unsual iftar at the Franciscan Convent
Christians and Muslims coming together to share the beauty of encountering each other: this is what happened in Bethany on the occasion of the iftar between the friars of the Custody and the locals. During the fasting month of Ramadan, in fact, every day after sunset, Muslims come together to eat the meal that breaks their fasting, the iftar. On the evening of June 15, the Christians of the Custody shared this moment with their Muslim neighbors. The muezzin’s voice at the nearby mosque could be heard in the garden of the monastery in Bethany, while everyone was sitting at the table ready to eat. On the two long tables set out right in front of the church, the Franciscans sat next to the representatives of the municipality of Bethany and some local citizens.
The iftar was organized by the Association pro Terra Sancta in collaboration with the Mosaic Center Jericho, by the initiative of Osama Hamdam, the architect of the Custody of the Holy Land who is responsible for the archaeological excavations carried out at the monastery in Bethany. The Custos of the Holy Land enthusiastically accepted the invitation to attend and came accompanied by the Secretary of the Holy Land, Fr. David Grenier, and the bursar, Fr. Ramzi Sidawi. Also present was the Italian Consul General to Jerusalem, Fabio Sokolowicz.
After the muezzin’s song, in a fraternal atmosphere, dinner began with a date and a glass of water, as per tradition, and then continued with rice, chicken and other typical foods.
“Welcome to Bethany. We are happy to have you here and I hope that this initiative will be repeated every year,” said the vice mayor of Bethany. As the sky got darker and evening fell, the archaeological diggers and nearby shop owners also ate outside and sat at the same tables. All of the dishes were prepared by the tireless Fatima Faroun, the head of the Shoruq Society For Women association. Shoruq means dawn because, as Fatima said, the association wants “to be a light in the life of the women of Bethany.”
“We are grateful that you are here,” said architect Osama Hamdam. “This is a small bridge to help break down the walls and I believe the only means [of doing this] is dialogue.”
Fr. Michael Sarquah, the superior in Bethany, explained that this is the first time that an iftar had taken place at the monastery, but that relations with the locals are very good: “we always exchange our well wishes for [different] festivities [as a sign of] friendship.”
Every day, in the parishes and projects of the Franciscan mission to the Middle East, Christians and Muslims learn together what mutual collaboration and sharing mean. Bethany, above all, is a special place for the Custos of the Holy Land: “Mary, Martha and Lazarus, who always welcomed Jesus, lived here. So, I think of Bethany as the home of friendship. And it is important that this place continue to be a home where we can come together and have a friendship experience.”