I first became aware of the “Siege of Jericho” in the summer of 2009, in Mexico. I was helping to staff our mission parish of Corpus Christi in the diocese of Juárez, just south of the U.S. border.
The parish territory occupies about 10 square miles of the desert outskirts of the city. There are very few paved roads, and the majority of the homes have a temporary look about them, as if the residents are planning to build a more permanent structure when they can afford to do so.
The people are poor in the goods of this world, but they are rich in faith and devotion and in care for one another. They express their faith in an impressive way when they come together for the Siege of Jericho.
The Siege consists of a 7-day round the clock prayer vigil which targets some of the evils which are affecting the peace and progress of the community. Evils such as Violence, Drug Abuse, Criminality, Extortion, Materialism, Abortion, Infidelity, and more, are listed on a huge scroll which is hung from the ceiling of the austere concrete church which is the center of the prayer vigil.
Several families accept the responsibility to have people praying in the church all during the 24-hour, 7-day vigil. The prayers consist of Rosaries and hours of adoration, interspersed with hymn singing, and occasional devotional conferences.
On the final day, which is always Sunday, the people march round the church seven times. The vigil concludes with the final blessing of the Mass, after which it is hoped that the walls of evil targeted by the Siege will begin to crumble.
I later learned that the idea of the Siege began in Poland in 1979, not long after Pope John Paul II was elected Pope. The Pope wanted to make a Papal visit to Poland. The Communist government said he could only visit places approved by them. The Pope would not accept this restriction. So there was no permission.
On May 1, 1979, the Polish people began a 7-day prayer vigil in Jasna Gora, at the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. On May 7th the last day of the vigil, the government unexpectedly gave way, allowing the Pope to visit Poland without any restrictions.
The 7-day prayer vigil soon became popularly known as “the Siege of Jericho”, in reference to chapter 6 of the book of Joshua, when Jericho fell on the 7th day of a peaceful prayerful siege.
Saint Augustine used to pray, “Lord, may I also work to attain that for which I pray”. The people of our Mexican mission continue their prayerful Siege year after year. While they grow as a community of faith who care and pray for one another, they also work as a community of action to make their corner of the earth a better place for themselves and for their children.