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In 1961 the Pontifical Mission entrusted the operation of its Jerusalem library to the Teresian Association, an international association of lay people committed to a religious life and to transforming society through various cultural and educational endeavors. If there was ever a happy fit between mission and opportunity, it was in the Teresians’ undertaking the administration of the Pontifical Mission libraries, first in Jerusalem and then in Bethlehem, Nazareth and Amman.

Founded in Spain in 1911, this association, which is under the Pontifical Council for the Laity, now numbers 5,000 members worldwide in 28 countries, most heavily in Spain and the Philippines. About half the members of the Teresian Association are lay women committed totally to its mission; the other half includes married couples and professionals from all walks of life.

The pillars supporting the Teresian Association are faith and culture, expressed in lifelong commitment to prayer and study. Their spirituality and corporate mission agree with the purpose of the Pontifical Mission libraries.

I absorbed some of this mingling of missions one afternoon during a recent visit to Jerusalem. My particular interest lay in skimming through some periodicals not available in the United States; I was looking for articles that might help one of my daughters with a graduate school paper. The library was filled with students, quietly studying or working together in hushed groups. They were a mix of boys and girls, ranging from middle school children to college students. Some of the girls wore veils, indicating they were Muslim; others dressed according to Western styles.

Maria Luisa Montesinos, the Spanish head librarian, later told me that library card holders were 58 percent Christian and 42 percent Muslim. This simple act of studying together is one more stone in the foundation of Muslim-Christian harmony.

Not far from where I was sitting, Begona Telleria, who is also from Spain, was helping a young student track down just the right book for a project. Across the way, Maria Luisa checked books in and out at the front desk. A mother and two daughters entered; the mother and younger daughter read magazines while the elder daughter conducted her research for a homework assignment.

Just one more afternoon in the life of the library. But where would these people go if this library was not here?

The Teresian focus on faith and culture is expressed in the way these women operate the library. It is not merely a repository for books; it is a learning center with a great assortment of programs.

The Teresians meet with teenagers in small groups to help them build healthy personal relationships. They conduct field trips to enable Palestinian youth to learn more about their culture. There is a sharing group for Spanish-speaking wives of Palestinian husbands, focusing on self-development and parent-child relations. The library sponsors lectures and forums on a variety of topics. And Christian feasts are marked by activities and celebrations.

The Pontifical Mission libraries also offer tutorial services. In both the Jerusalem and Bethlehem libraries I met recent graduates of the University of Notre Dame who volunteered to work a year in the Holy Land through the sponsorship of the Accord Foundation. I watched as one of them helped young girls learn English and Spanish.

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Tags: Jerusalem Education Pilgrimage/pilgrims Books