Education, dialogue and prayer. In my estimation, these are the most powerful tools we can use to achieve peace in the face of discrimination, violence, hunger, and the host of ailments humanity suffers today.
Did you know that, for the last 40 years, the Catholic Church has been upholding this concept in the city of Christ’s birth?
Some of my fondest memories of the Holy Land are of Bethlehem, a humble town in the Palestinian Territories’ West Bank. An experience I’ll never forget is seeing the smiling, warm faces of Palestinian young adults — both Christian and Muslim — who study at Bethlehem University, co-founded by the Vatican and De La Salle Christian Brothers (as in St. Jean Baptiste De La Salle) — and sharing a meal prepared by the students.
The University’s community has endured hardship:
Despite being closed twelve times by Israeli military imposed orders, the longest of which was for three years from October 1987 until October 1990, classes have continually been held on- and off-campus. The curfews, travel restrictions, military checkpoint harassment, and the negative impact of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, are factors faced by the University’s enrollment of 2,936 students, most of whom are full time, and 11,470 graduates, most of whom are serving the Palestinian society in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in various professions and leadership positions. The University’s story is one of people committed to pursuing their higher education – perseverance and courage in the face of adversity and injustice – working together in hope with an ever widening international circle of colleagues to build a better future.
Back here in our comfy homes, we Christians often take the Holy Land and its holy shrines for granted. In reality, most Christians have left Palestine due to economic hardship caused by the Israeli military’s occupation…the more Christians leave, the more parishes shrink, the more endangered are the holy sites related to Our Lord’s life of becoming museums — or simply forgotten.
I’m absolutely inspired by Bethlehem University’s mission to empower Palestinian students, through Catholic education, to invest their futures in building up Palestinian society once again. Having spoken with several BU students, I know that their determination to contribute to the peace and well-being of the Holy Land is neither naiive nor idealistic, but heartfelt vision grounded in the hope cultivated by Bethlehem University.
This great 40th anniversary video tells BU’s story visually: