The Terra Santa School of Jericho: where beauty arouses responsibility

Giacomo Pizzi19 June 2020

We visited Father Mario Hadchiti, principal of the Terra Santa School of Jericho. With him we talk about school, education and dialogue. The appeal to help schools in a moment of crisis.

Father Mario Hadchiti, a Franciscan of Lebanese origin, is six feet of energy and creativity. Parish priest of Jericho, since 2013 he has directed one of the most important schools of the Custody of the Holy Land in the Palestinian territory: the Terra Santa School of Jericho. Together with the protection of the Holy Places and social works, the schools are a pillar of the Franciscan charism. There are fifteen in the whole territory in which the Custody operates and there are about 12,000 students. The school in Jericho is attended by 900 students: a minority of Christian boys (the Christian population in Jericho is less than 1%) and many Muslim boys. A Christian school from kindergarten to Tawjihi, the final exam of high school, where boys and girls study together in a serene environment and with a high level of training.

While he makes us sit in his office, around the desk there are two professors of physics and mathematics, a Christian and a Muslim one, a parent of a pupil and the governor’s secretary. They discuss the situation of a student with some scholastic difficulties. For Father Mario the key to everything is listening and collaboration. His teacher – in this – is always Jesus: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but he never returned. He always passed through Jericho instead. In Jericho Jesus met the blind man and was tempted. He knew the suffering and the problems of man and so I try to do,” says Father Mario. The recipe is simple: “I tried to put Jesus’ teaching into practice, I listened to people and asked them what they needed”.

And so the results came. Abuna Mario is much loved and respected by the local community: “I gave them order, discipline and beauty, receiving respect in return. Respect towards Christians, towards the dress I wear and mutual respect among individuals“, he explains. “I learned from my service at Mount Tabor the importance of beauty,” continues Abuna Mario, “because beauty arouses responsibility. I have prepared a beautiful school because the children are worthy of living in a beautiful environment, but they must learn to keep the environment clean for others too, respecting others”.

“Ibrahim’s father came to find out about his son’s school situation,” the friar explains, “and to ask for help in paying his tuition. The Terra Santa school, as a private institution, asks families for a contribution to school expenses. It is not a high figure, but in this period of great economic crisis caused by the pandemic, families are in difficulty. Agriculture and tourism, the two main activities in Jericho, are in crisis and consequently the whole system is in crisis: parents are struggling to pay tuition and the Custody, alone, is unable to meet the many expenses. “In the month of May I had to halve the teachers’ salary, even though they continued to work doing online lessons and preparing the boys for exams,” Father Mario tells us with concern.

A concern expressed also by the Custos Francesco Patton who in his appeal to the donors of Pro Terra Sancta emphasizes the fundamental action of the schools of the Holy Land as “gymnasiums of coexistence”. In Father Mario’s school this is more evident than ever: “I struggled at first – he confesses – but I managed, with God’s help, to use the right words to dialogue with the children, the parents and society of Jericho“.

We spend a couple of hours with him to discover the many wonders of the school: from the motivational signs hanging in the corridors to the choice to teach computer science from the very first years of school, from art workshops to the teaching of the Hebrew language to educate in dialogue and peace. “We have increased the number of social workers to three and conflicts have decreased,” adds the Franciscan Father. These and many others are the ideas that Father Mario and his staff of professors continue to realize. And he greeted us with a final appeal: “We cannot go back and lose this beauty, because children are the future, we need all the help we can get”.