Tag Archives: HOPE (Holy Land Outreach to Palestinian Educators)

to Francis from Beit Jala

1 Feb

Shomali and Pope Francis

Pope Francis receives message from Beit Jala Christians

VATICAN – In an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Father Ibrahim Shomali, parish priest of Beit Jala, delivered a message from the people of the city to the Holy Father relating the current suffering of Christian families in the town of Beit Jala.

Fr. Shomali emphasized to the Holy Father the extent of the Israeli oppression regarding the people of Beit Jala, through its expropriation of private lands to open roads and build settlements, including the Wall of Separation, and, more recently, the seizure of lands belonging to the Convent of Cremisan.

Fr. Shomali’s message focused on the fact that the “Palestinian people” strongly adhere to its national homeland and its fight to stay on it. However, the conservation of lands requires concrete measures to thwart any takeover attempt, and to enable the Palestinian people to live with dignity in a free State.

It is worth recalling here that an Israeli Court in Tel Aviv last April adopted a decision reaffirming the course of the Separation Wall, around Cremisan, especially between the Convents of the Salesian Fathers and the Salesian Sisters, as well as the annexation of private properties belonging to 58 Palestinian families of Beit Jala to the settlement of Gilo, south of Jerusalem.

The Heads of the Catholics Churches in the Holy Land, at the time, called for the realignment of the course of the Wall, in accordance with internaitonal law, pointing out to the Israeli decision-makers that the seizure of lands in no way serves the cause of peace, nor  does it  bolster the position of the moderates who, in this objective, opt for non-violence.

8:30 am Milford – and – 3:30 pm Beit Jala

8 Feb

Mass has been celebrated in Cremisan valley every Friday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in a prayer-protest of a proposed new section of what is called a separation wall by the Palestinians and a security fence by the Israelis. Whether it is for separation or security, it is definitely a wall, and not a fence, in this section of the structure that divides Beit Jala and Jerusalem.

Earlier in January Father Ibrahim Shomali, the pastor of Annunciation Catholic Church in Beit Jala, celebrated the Mass in the cold and snow, after an unusual snowfall a couple days before.fr_ibraheem 2

We see on the altar a blue-green pottery chalice. Father Shomali has used this chalice for the weekly Mass ever since June.

We brought it from Cincinnati as a gift to him and the parish. So, after we used it when we celebrated Mass in that olive grove in Cremisan valley on the edge of the town of Beit Jala in the Bethlehem-area, we left it behind, so that they might remember us in prayer as we remember them in prayer. ibrahin snow bend over 7

Today – Friday, February 8 – will be the last day that Father Shomali will celebrate Mass in that olive grove before the final decision of the Israeli government.  A final decision of the Israeli Court will be handed down on February 12. Will Israel take control of the Cremisan valley? Or will the Cremisan valley remain in the hands of the Palestinians?

PRAY. At 8:30 a.m.(Milford time) pray in solidarity with Father Ibrahim and the people of Beit Jala as they celebrate Mass at 3:30 p.m. (Beit Jala time).

ACT. As urged by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, sign the petition that will be taken to Israeli authorities in protest of the proposed building of this section of the wall.

save the valley in Cremisan: online petition

31 Jan

Cremisan school

The Society of St. Yves is the Catholic Center for Human Rights of the Latin Patriarchate (the Roman Catholic Archdiocese) in the Holy Land. The lawyers of this society have been arguing before the Israeli Supreme Court, at the request of the Latin Patriarchate, asking the Court to stop the Israeli government from building a new section of the security fence (separation wall) through the Cremisan valley at the edge of Beit Jala (Bethlehem).

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Last summer I celebrated Mass in Cremisan valley, and wrote about the place in this previous post: “Not on Friday, but on Tuesday.”

The Society of St. Yves outlines the reasons against the building of this section of the wall, and provides an online petition of support for their position that will be sent to Israeli authorities.  Find out more and sign the petition at “Save the valley in Cremisan: Support bridges, not walls!

When I signed the petition, I wrote this as my reason for signing:

Our friends in Israel could clearly express their desire for reconciliation and security for all who live in the land by a decision NOT to build this section of the fence/wall in the Cremisan valley as it is proposed. Just think of the good public relations message that the Israeli government would put out and the good will that they would spread by making it known that they want the Christians to stay, that they want the people of Beit Jala to have a green space in which to rest and play, that they want the people of the area to have access to water, that they do not want the farmers to lose their livelihood, and that they want the children of the valley to feel safe and secure enough to live and learn as all children deserve – by making it known that they will NOT build that proposed wall/fence through the valley of Cremisan. The Israelis and the Israel government have an opportunity here that they do not often have to put their actions where their words are and their hearts where their minds are. An international audience would hear the message. Not building the wall/fence in the Cremisan Valley along the proposed route is a win-win situation for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and especially for the children on both sides of that fence/wall that now divides them.

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You are most welcome

31 Dec

While on pilgrimage in the Holy Land in June 2012 with a group of teachers from various schools in our Archdiocese of Cincinnati we celebrated an outdoor Mass in Cremisan Valley in an olive grove. It was then that we met Deacon Sleiman (Solomon), a student at the Latin Patriarchate Seminary who is serving as deacon at Annunciation Church in Beit Jala.

In his car Deacon Solomon led our bus on its way through the village of Beit Jala, up over the hill and around the winding roads, to the Cremisan Valley. In the open trunk of his car, he brought along an altar table, and inside the car he had everything we needed for Mass. He was the perfect host and gentleman. He is, in the words of one of our pilgrim-teachers, a holy man – and he will be a good and holy priest.

As you see him and hear him in this YouTube video, enjoy his smile and his obvious love for the Church. We can assure  y0u that he means it when he says, “You are most welcome to be here with us in our Annunication Church in Beit Jala.”

not on Friday, but on Tuesday

15 Nov

Every Friday afternoon at 3:00 p.m., with obvious connections to the time of suffering that Jesus endured on the Friday that we call Good, Father Ibrahim Shomali, the parish priest of Beit Jala (Bethlehem) celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with his people in an olive grove in Cremisan Valley on the outskirts of the town.

This place is chosen by the parish of Beit Jala for Mass to protest in a prayerful and nonviolent way the proposed path that the Israeli government plans to follow in building another section of the separation wall through this very valley. What the Palestinians (and I) and many Israeli citizens call a separation wall, some proponents prefer to call a security fence, claiming that only 3% of it is actually a wall, and that the rest is a low lying, barbed wire structure. There is no doubt that this section will not be a fence; it will be a wall. And it will separate: 58 families  from their olive groves, 450 children from their school at the convent of the Silesian sisters, and all the people of Beit Jala from the only recreational park, green space that is left for them. And it is hard to imagine how this particular re-routing of the wall to take more land and water for Israel is necessary for security.

The schedule for our pilgrim-teachers from schools of our Archdiocese of Cincinnati did not allow us to join him/them on Friday, so Father Ibrahim arranged for Deacon Suleiman to accompany us to the place for Mass on a Tuesday morning.

When we arrived, we found the ground turned up and over. Someone had obviously plowed the ground.

It was alleged by some of the locals that the Israeli government had done that to make it difficult to pray there. No matter who did it or why it was done, the turned up ground did make it quite complicated to walk and difficult to stand, the slightest shift of our weight causing our feet to slip from underneath us. The situation made us more determined in our prayer. We stood our ground as best as we could.

Deacon Suleiman called us to worship with a reminder that Jesus prayed on the night before his crucifixion in another grove of olive trees: at the base of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. These olives trees are a Gethsemane of another kind. Here the agony of the garden continues.

We prayed that the agony of our friends from Beit Jala will be eased.

As we left, some of us picked up stones and olive branches, not knowing whether or not we will ever be able to return with them to this place.

Photos Worth Thousands of Memories

7 Jul

 

Photo by Dan Campbell

To say that he has the patience of a fisherman, the eyes of an artist and the precision of a surgeon might be a bit of a Middle Eastern overstatement, but he is a very good photographer. Mark Bowen accompanied the second group of HOPE pilgrim-teachers from Cincinnati to the Holy Land, having also been with the first group in 2010.

Most often Mark is on the lens side of the camera. But once in a while he sets up the picture, turns his camera over to someone else, and is actually in the photo himself, like in this one taken by the café-keeper at Stars and Bucks in Bethlehem.  

He was also coaxed into being in this group photo, taken in Nazareth by our guide Rami on Jen’s camera.

Being himself quite taken by an event or a site, he is even known to have allowed his picture to be taken by someone else with their own camera, like this one by JoAnne at the Jordan River.

On a rare occasion, difficult to imagine but true, he has even “asked” someone else to use “his” camera to take his picture, like this one taken with Archbishop Elias Chacour at Mar Elias School in Nazareth.

Most often, though, people caught Mark, as he so often caught many of us, doing what he did best: taking pictures, and editing and saving and posting pictures, like in this one by JoAnne in Amman, Jordan

 and in this one by JoAnne on the Sea of Galilee

 and in this one by Cindy on the Sea of Galilee

and in this one by JoAnne at the Gloria Hotel in Jerusalem

 and in these two by Father Rob.

All that being shown and said, Mark has done a remarkable service and a remarkably good job of capturing the moments, the people, the emotions and the HOPEs of our Cincinnati teacher-pilgrims and our Palestinian teacher-friends during the HOPE Pilgrimage 2012. Acknowledging Mark’s work on the back end of so many photos and memories, on the front end we all want to express to him our gratitude, appreciation and admiration.

By the way, Mark, “Mom” (Nancy) especially wants you to know how much she loves you, as can be seen on her face (and yours) in this photo of the two of you, taken by JoAnne at the Dome of the Rock.

 

 

 

 

with tears and prayers

2 Mar

محادثة “skype” مع مدرسة “Saint Andrew”

1 Mar

On February 28 students from Saint Joseph School in Nablus, in the West Bank of Palestine, visited by Skype with 6th graders from St. Andrew-St. Elizabeth Ann Seton school in Milford, Ohio.

Students from the two Catholic schools were 6,000 miles away, but technology brought them together to see each other’s smiles and to hear each other’s voices.

As one of the Palestinian students sat close to the computer, the others in the classroom watched on a large screen. They saw our students sitting in the hall below our church. Note in the bottom right corner of the next photo: in Palestine it was 420 p.m. The students had finished their school day, had gone home to eat the main meal of the day, and returned, yes, returned to school in order to meet our students who were just beginning their school day at 9:20 a.m.

In the classroom with the students …

… were Miss Abeer, their Principal, and Miss Ruya, their English teacher. Both Miss Abeer and Miss Ruya had visited our school last October. Our 6th grade teacher at St. Andrew, Mrs. Barbara Ambs, worked out the details of the online visit with Miss Ruya. They each prepared their own students, and pulled off this miracle visit, not giving up, even after technological problems forced them to cancel the first two attempts.

And look who else was in the classroom in Nablus: Father Johnny, the parish priest of St. Joseph.

A Palestinian girl asked her question. She spoke in English. She and her classmates began studying English in the first grade – and French, too. Notice the piece of paper. Isn’t that cute? She had her question ready.

Then she smiled, as she got an answer from her new American friend, who also spoke in English, of course. It would have been a very short visit and conversation, if our students needed to speak in Arabic.

It was fun for all: students, teacher and parish priest – on both sides.

This smile says it all. It’s for the children!

17 say “yes” for the children

20 Feb

 

Photos by Mark Bowen/HOPE

Since the initial planning of a working-pilgrimage of teachers from schools in our archdiocese to the Holy Land, situations in the Middle East have worsened, particularly in Syria and in relation to Iran.

In the midst of a flurry of emails with information, questions and concerns, a few (4) pilgrim-teachers have decided to delay their visit until 2013. But the majority has recommitted themselves to make the trip. The educators, under the auspices of HOPE (Holy Land Outreach to Palestinian Educators) will spend a significant amount of time learning with teachers from Catholic schools in the Holy Land, in addition to visiting the holy sites.

In renewing her decision, one of our pilgrims spoke for herself and another, “We figure we should make our decision based on the reality of today and not on what might or might not happen in the future. We will trust that, if God wants us to go, He’ll provide the safe path for us to travel.”

HOPE leaders and participants have believed, since the beginning of the project, that “it’s God’s project” and “it’s for the children.” It will be an honor for me to be with them as their chaplain. 

 Photos by Mark Bowen/HOPE

at station #5 and #12

23 Jan

In honor of our partnership with the Holy Land, our St. Andrew Welcome Connection – the committee of parishioners who welcome new parishioners – gives to every new member an olive wood rosary. In our partnership and in our prayer we hope to help the Christians in the Holy Land, so that they will know that they do not carry their cross all by themselves.

This message is with the rosary:

This rosary was made by the Rosary Makers of St. Andrew Parish using olivewood beads from the Holy Land.  The beads were shaped by Palestinian hands in and around Bethlehem.  The knots tied in the cord were made by the hands of a member of St. Andrew who lives in or around Milford.  This rosary is a symbol of the partnership between the Christians of St. Andrew Parish in Milford and the Christians of Annunciation Parish in Beit Jala, Palestine.

We hope that every time you use this rosary, you say a prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters in Beit Jala.

“We notice around your church the Stations of the Cross…You are at station number 12 – you are being crucified with Christ.  We are at station number 5 – we can be Simon of Cyrene for you to help you carry your cross” (from a homily given by Father Rob Waller at Annunciation Church, Beit Jala, Palestine, July 18, 2005).