On the promontory of Jaffa, the sanctuary of St Peter acts as a watershed between Tel Aviv and the coastal cities of the south: Ashdod, Ashkelon and Zikim, coming up to the Gaza Strip. A community of seven Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land lives here, and two others are detached to the convent of St Anthony, a few hundred yards away, the seat of the Latin parish.
The life of the parish
According to the New Testament, various episodes of the apostolate of Peter took place in Jaffa: the resurrection of Tabitha, the hospitality offered to him by Simon the Tanner and the vision of the sheet let down from heaven. It was from here that Peter, called by the centurion Cornelius, went to Caesarea where he welcomed the first pagans into the Church. The church, dedicated to St Peter, aims to commemorate these events, narrated in chapters 9 to 11 in the Acts of the Apostles.
Each of the friars looks after the faithful of one linguistic group in particular. Most of the people who attend the church are from the Philippines, but there are also Indians, Africans of various nationalities, Latin Americans, Poles, Russians and Ukrainians. A Hebrew-speaking Catholic community is also stably present in Jaffa, as well as some faithful of Arab origin.
7 October and Our Lady of the Rosary
Last 7 October, the Israeli city known for its vibrant night life fell into absolute silence, interrupted only by the anti-missile alarms. On the same day, the feast-day of Our Lady of the Rosary, a group of faithful gathered in the parish to pray to the “Queen of Peace” from the very beginning. Almost three weeks later, the face of the city is still unrecognizable and the life of the parish has also undergone various limitations. “Many of our faithful are afraid to leave their homes, or they cannot reach us due to a lack of public transport,” fra Carlos Santos, responsible for the pastoral care of immigrants and who has been a member of the Franciscan community in Jaffa, told us. Less than half the faithful now attend celebrations. The Catechism is continuing in presence, but many children no longer manage to come.
The Rosary… on the web
The friars continue to have moments of community prayer: the morning lauds and the Mass and Vespers in the evening, with some faithful attending. Since 17 October, the day dedicated to prayer and fasting for peace in the Holy Land, the community of Jaffa has continued to meet every day for the prayer of the Rosary of peace, following the programme already proposed for that day. “We have continued to meet spontaneously every day to pray the Rosary for peace,” says fra Carlos. “Every evening at 8 p.m. we come together and we also do a a live on Facebook, so that those who cannot be in the church can join in the prayer (in English) over the internet.” Thanks to word of mouth, every evening “almost one thousand people, not only local faithful, but also from the Philippines or the United States, take part in this appointment.” The community is also praying for its youngsters who are called up as reservists, “so that they know someone is praying for them.” Some families of parishioners have started a collection of staple goods.
On Friday 27 October, the community of Jaffa will also be joining the Day of prayer and fasting with two appointments: at St Peter’s in Hebrew and at St Anthony’s in English, following the programme prepared by the Custody of the Holy Land.