Global Fellows Visit Holy Land

Fr. Pat Malone of the Diocese of Wichita recently traveled with a group of priests and deacons to the Holy Land. The trip was part of CRS’ Global Fellows program, a grassroots speaking initiative that draws on the talents of Catholic priests, deacons and seminarians to talk about the mission of CRS in parishes throughout the U.S. In the West Bank, the group met with participants of CRS’ “Food for Training” program and learned about a project using video cameras to document human rights violations against Palestinians.

Our day began with our first visit to Manger Square in Bethlehem, where we celebrated the Eucharist in the chapel of St. Jerome. It was quite near the site of the cave where Jesus was born. What an awesome experience to be in such a holy place where Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace was born. Unfortunately, Bethlehem is not at Peace.

Sewing skills

The members of the Women?s Solidarity Project in Bethlehem – where unemployment is high among Palestinians – enhanced their sewing skills and learned embroidery through CRS? Food for Training program. Photo by Mikaele Sansone/CRS

It is only a short distance from Nativity Square to the “Wall” which separates Jerusalem from Bethlehem. It is relatively easy for American visitors to enter and leave, but the Palestinian residents must obtain a permission slip each day to go to Jerusalem to work or for medical needs. This makes working in Jerusalem, where the most jobs are to be found, nearly impossible. And unemployment is very high in Bethlehem and the surrounding villages.

In response to this critical need, CRS has initiated several programs. Rather than just hand out food to those in need, CRS started “Food for work” and “Food for training.”

Today we had the opportunity to visit some of the women of the neighboring villages who are participants in the Women’s Solidarity Project. These women shared with us the impact that the projects have on their lives. They have large families, but had no family income until they were selected—because of their unique skills—for CRS’ “Food for Training” program.

Sewing skills

With the profits generated from their crafts, members of the Women’s Solidarity Project in Bethlehem can help support their families. Photo by Mikaele Sansone/CRS

In just a year’s time, the women enhanced their sewing skills and learned embroidery, producing quality embroidered handcrafts. They now sell their products to visitors and others, receiving a much needed income that will provide for them and their families. Initially, the women work voluntarily until the project begins to generate a profit. Some of our group purchased gifts to take home. It was a very gratifying visit.

Our next stop was B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. This is a non-profit organization of Israelis that monitors human rights violations of Palestinian citizens. CRS has helped to provide video cameras to one of their new efforts. Called Operation Video, they supply video cameras to citizens of Hebron. These persons are trained to use the cameras to record incidents that appear to violate human rights. This is vitally important so both sides of a situation can be presented to responsible authorities. It has proven to be of great benefit to both sides when an investigation is undertaken. It was reassuring to visit with some Israeli citizens who are greatly concerned about these issues.

The rest of the day was spent visiting with Rabbi David Rosen, international director of Inter-religious Affairs, American Jewish Committee, and attorney Daniel Seidemann, founder of Ir –Armin. Both men presented differing views on resolving the present Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But there was agreement that a two-state solution, with equality and respect for all parties, is the only possibility for peace.

It was a long day that provided us with much information that will enable us to bring home a balanced view of the situation here in the Holy Land.

Fr. Pat Malone

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