Ain Karem: a place of encounter and dialogue in the name of John the Baptist

Ain Karem: a place of encounter and dialogue in the name of John the Baptist

Once again this year, the shrine of St John in the Mountain in Ain Karem opened its doors to the local citizens for a meeting to study the historical, religious and cultural aspects of this place. According to tradition, Ain Karem is the birthplace of John the Baptist, in agreement with the gospels that situate the house of Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, here. Today this area is part of the outskirts of the city of Jerusalem and the majority of the people who live here are Jewish, religiously and culturally.  

The event, based on interreligious dialogue and mutual knowledge between the different cultural and religious elements of Jerusalem, started several years ago following the celebrations of St John the Baptist which every 23 and 24 June bring hundreds of Christian pilgrims to Ain Karem. The curiosity of the local Jewish citizens made them want to learn more about the Christian reality of the neighbourhood, where the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land have three places of worship: St John in the Mountain, the shrine of the Visitation and St John in the Desert. Since then, every year this appointment is repeated and brings together the local citizens to discover the figure of John the Baptist. The last one was held on Friday 30 June, with the participation of several speakers – who all spoke in Hebrew from beginning to end – who discussed, among other subjects, the history of the nearby Russian monastery of Ain Karem, the figure of the Good Samaritan together with the value of giving and, naturally, St John the Baptist, the “first Christian believer.” 

The Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, welcomed the very many participants to the lectures and he emphasized that initiatives like this one help people to dialogue and get to know one another, despite being bombarded on a daily basis by news that speaks of violence and intolerance. In this regard, Fr Francesco recalled the figure of St John the Baptist, defining him a “prophet of reconciliation.” He was followed by Fr. Severino Lubecki, in charge of the “Casanova” facility for the accommodation of pilgrims in Ain Karem, who acted as host and introduced the speakers.  

After the various speakers and a convivial lunch at Casanova, the attendees went to the nearby church of St John for the concert by the Magnificat Institute, the academy of music of the Custody of the Holy Land. The performances of the students of the Magnificat were conducted by the director of the Institute and Secretary of the Custody, Fr. Alberto Joan Pari. 

Filippo De Grazia