Greetings from Bethlehem, the “City of Peace”

During the month of July, CRS took a group of educators from three Catholic high schools in the United States on an educational immersion trip to the Middle East. The primary purpose of the trip was for the educators to see first-hand the work of CRS in the region.

The history and the current situation in the Holy Land are complex. There is little awareness of the severity of the humanitarian crisis there generated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the links between development and peace in the region.

The following blog was sent by Dr. Jeanne Gradone, Principal of Morris Catholic High School in the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, after visiting CRS programming in the West Bank.

For the past two days, we have been meeting with adults and students from several of the programs that CRS is involved with in Bethlehem. We visited with three women at the Women’s Solidarity Project in Ubeidyeh – Bethlehem District and observed them as they sewed the final stitching on liturgical vestments. We saw examples of traditional Palestinian embroidery and recognized the fine workmanship required to make them; hours of fine detail work and the pride in completion. Because of a CRS grant, several women are employed by the project and are able to help support their families because of the Fair Trade prices.

At the Food for Work/ Food for Training Program, men were moving large boulders to make a road that will connect their villages. The three goals – access, social and food – provide employment for people who meet strict criteria. They work for five hours a day, five days a month and are given the flour, sugar, chickpeas, salt and oil required to feed a family of five or more. The work that they do is both meaningful and important.

Our meeting with the Assistant Director of the Education Division of the Patriarchal and Diocesan Schools in Palestine was insightful and fascinating. As educators, we were eager to hear of the work done with their students, academically, emotionally, and in the area of peace-making in their 40 schools. Like everyone we have met, he was passionate about his work and recognizes its importance.

Our meetings with Palestinian youth at the Youth Voices for Community Action (YVCA) project at the Dalal Cultural Center, the tours of the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, and Bethlehem University were wonderful. Their sincere desire to become a generation focused on peace was inspiring. At the Dalal Center, the members of the YVCA spoke of their hopes, their desire to have young people in other countries, especially the United States, to view them in a positive light, determine and the action steps needed to promote a culture of non-violence.

The Dheisheh Refugee Camp tour included the history of the camp since the United Nations provided tents in 1947 for families displaced by the creation of the State of Israel. The tents have been replaced by permanent dwellings for the 11,000 residents. Our guide was thorough, hope-filled, and positive.

At Bethlehem University, our tour guides presented the mission and goals of the university, and were filled with pride about their accomplishments, the 12,000 graduates during its 35 year history, and the desire to spread the news about the importance of educating the Palestinian youth in the West Bank region.

Our visit to the Church of the Nativity seemed to tie the whole Bethlehem experience together. After praying at the ”solid silver star” that marks the place of Jesus’ birth in the last cave located in the base of the original and succeeding churches, our guide showed us the bronze relief on one of the walls – a gift from Pope Benedict XIV when he visited Bethlehem last year. The relief depicts the shepherd boy, David, with his sheep as he comes in from the fields and meets his parents, brothers, and Samuel, who will soon anoint him.

In the background of the relief is his grandmother Ruth, a Moabite descendant of Abraham through his son Ishmael, as she gathers the wheat from the wealthy Boaz. On the top of the relief is a condensed version of the Matthew lineage from David to Christ; the bottom has the roots of a tree. The relief depicts how we Christians who follow Christ, then, are descendants of the Jewish nation through David and the Jewish nation is the descendant of the Arabs through Naomi. So, by extension, Christians, the Jewish Nation and the Arabs are one family. This echoes the plea made by multiple people and age levels in our several meetings, “In this land of peace, please help us have peace.”

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