Among the elderly of Bethlehem

Giacomo Pizzi2 November 2010

Here are some stories from Bethlehem. The daily commitment in care and prevention activities by the  Franciscan Social Service Office of the Custody of the Holy Land supported by ATS pro Terra Sancta through the project for the elderly “Bethlehem and the elderly”, is fundamental in the Palestinian system, completely lacking in public and social care. It is sometimes even the only way of survival.

M. was born on September 21 1946 in a family with 5 daughters. She had a twin brother for a few days, the son her parents so much longed for. They both had health problems, and the little brother unfortunately died: the family accused the baby sister of being the cause of the death, of being a curse for the household. When she was 1 year and a half, she was sent to a nunnery in Lebanon, where she lived under constant care for 20 years. All life long she has worked as a volunteer in social and health structures. In 1999 she became a guest of the “Societa’ Antoniana”, underwent several head surgeries, her uterus had to be removed and then she was diagnosed with a thyroid cancer. She is still in the “Societa’ Antoniana” and when she can, she helps the nuns taking care of the patients because she says “Living for the others makes me feel at home”

S. was born in a good family, worked as a tailor, and never got married. She is 78, but her greatest ambition – she says jokingly – is to find a husband, because it is never too late! Six years ago she started losing her sight because of an eye infection that the doctors can’t cure and she got blind. Her family could not afford private care for her and decided to put her in a care home and since then she has been a guest in the “Societa’ Antoniana”. Through tears she says she doesn’t like her life because she feels abandoned: nobody from her family comes to visit anymore. Only a niece goes and visit seldom bringing some fruits: it’s the happiest occasion for S.

Since she was a child, M. wanted to be a nun, so she moved from Ramallah to Jerusalem to enter a nunnery. When she was 20 her parents got divorced and M. decided to leave the nunnery temporarily to go and live with her father, alone at home. She had never been ordained, but she always wore her nun robe. After her father’s death, she asked to go back to the nunnery but she was rejected, so she went to Bethlehem and started helping old people who, not be alone, gave her a home. After the death of an old woman who had hosted her for one year, she had a terrible experience that affected deeply her life: the old woman’s family sent her away and M. became homeless. This life on the streets and the constant fear to be abused drove her mad. Once a priest saw this woman dressed like a nun and decided to help her. She was initially put in a mental hospital, and when she got better, she was brought to the “Societa’ Antoniana”, where she has lived for the last 6 years. She still suffers from panic attacks and she has tried many times to escape from the care home. Now she has a cat which she treats like a son: caring about her cat makes her feel better.

Anna Colombi, ATS pro Terra Sancta volunteer in Bethlehem