14 February 2012
Deacon Steve Marcus is introduced to a child from the Crèche Institute in Bethlehem.
(photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
CNEWA’s Father Guido Gockel, M.H.M., and Gabriel Delmonaco are accompanying a group of friends and benefactors on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Monday, 13 February
When the Magi reached the grotto of the Nativity, I’m sure they left their camels just outside it. When our group arrived at Bethlehem’s Nativity Square, a Palestinian policeman asked us to move our car quickly. Our guiding star, Tony, could not hover above the grotto nor even nearby. Nonetheless, the CNEWA delegation made it to the holy place where Jesus was born. After a long line of modern shepherds, we kneeled in the very place where, according to the tradition, the infant Jesus rested between Mary and Joseph. There was no child there, but soon we would be among many innocents of Bethlehem.
From the Basilica of the Nativity we drove down a hill to the Paul VI Pontifical Institute of Ephpheta. More than 140 hearing-impaired children are schooled there, and in addition they are trained to speak and lip read by the Sisters of St. Dorothy and their professional staff. Deafness unfortunately is a problem in the West Bank, where a large number of interfamily marriages are arranged to keep family and family wealth intact. As a consequence, some children are born with genetic deficiencies.
Sister Piera showed us how children learn to speak thanks to a software developed in Canada. For younger kids, the software shows air balloons that children can blow up by uttering sounds in a microphone. Another very ingenuous invention of Sister Piera is a train that runs on the rails only when children are able to reach a certain level of pitch with their voice.
Ephpheta is what Jesus said to the man who was deaf and mute. It means, “Be open!” At Paul VI Ephpheta Institute, which CNEWA has supported since its inception more than 40 years ago, the miracle repeats itself every day. Through the miracles of Facebook, one of our dear benefactors contacted me and asked me to give a special kiss to the child she is sponsoring at Ephpheta. I’m happy to report that her child is doing fine and was very happy to be chosen among the others for a special treat. I took several pictures for Jennifer, our generous benefactor. This is CNEWA ... We are a big family where we make connections between people in need and people who want to help.
Following our tight schedule, we literally ran to our Pontifical Mission Library, located right next to the far larger complex of Bethlehem University. I have visited the Pontifical Mission Library in the past, but this time I noticed a pleasant positive change. Not only is the library offering books, Internet and various classes to young children in Bethlehem, they also started to take children on field trips to various cities. A recent one was to Jericho and the children enjoyed it very much. For some of them it was the first opportunity to leave Bethlehem and explore other historical places. The cost of the membership is nominal and allows children to have access to unique services. The library is run by a lay association of the faithful, the Teresians, and since the children using the library are Christian and Muslim, they also encourage interreligious and cultural dialogue.
We were invited to lunch at Bethlehem University, the only Catholic university in the West Bank. Its institute of hotel management prepared for us a first class meal. Brother Peter Bray and Brother Jack Curran gave us a tour of this lovely campus, even showing us the pock-marked walls showered by bullets sprayed by the Israeli army during the second Intifada. The brothers miraculously avoided the bullets.
Currently, 70 percent of the student body is Muslim; the remainder is Christian. Also, 70 percent is female. Tuition is inexpensive and is partially subsided by the university, which CNEWA has supported since its foundation.
Our trip to Bethlehem could not end in a better way than with a visit to the Crèche Institute. Sister Elizabeth (who has recently come on board to replace a retiring Sister Sophie), with the help of social workers, picks up abandoned children from the streets and provides them with food, shelter and medical care. They also provide support to young women (sometimes as young as 16), who are victims of abuse at home. The most beautiful moment was when all our benefactors held children as young as two weeks in their arms. If it weren't for Sister Elizabeth, they would have succumbed to a horrific fate.
Sister explained to us that every baby is by law registered as a Muslim and cannot be adopted. At the moment there are 12 infants picked from the streets in this situation. One baby, whose name in English would be translate as Glory, spent so much time in the cold that he was half paralyzed when the sister picked him up. Now, he is doing fine and offered me the most beautiful smile.
Late in the afternoon we headed toward Jerusalem, where wandered through the alley of the Old City. By chance, since this was not scheduled today, we ended up at the church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose.
This was a very intensive day. Deacon Steve Marcus commented: “In one day, we witnessed the place where Jesus was born and where he was crucified. And in the middle we have experienced the powerful change CNEWA is bringing in the land of Jesus.”