Bethlehem. Embracing the language of our brothers and sisters

Giacomo Pizzi5 February 2021

Starting from 2016, Intensive Italian language courses are offered by Pro Terra Sancta to international wannabe Franciscans and theology students.

Learning Italian is pivotal for them to fully enjoy the Franciscan life and their personal devotional path. The initiative, established by Mons Pizzaballa, current Patriarch of Jerusalem and former Holy Land Guardian, was so successful that young people, the most lively community of Jerusalem and Palestine, wanted to join in.

Therefore, two new Italian courses were opened in 2018. “The idea”, told us Marta Ferrari, who teaches Italian and coordinates all the courses, “came from the need of keeping Jerusalem’s youth alive after a fairly difficult year”.

The project was sustained by the availability of Dar Mamilla guest house, the incessant work of many newly-graduated Italian teachers and by the enthusiastic attendance of a large group of locals. Against all the odds of the current pandemic, all the students, mostly of Islamic extraction, were able to pass their exam and upgrade to Italian level II. They are currently attending online classes. Same goes for Jericho’s Mosaic Centre students, with a sad major difference: the 25 pre-Covid pupils, due to the increased difficulties in accessing to the internet, summed-up to two only.

The two heroes still standing are motivated by their enthusiasm for Italian language and culture. Italian is indeed very well loved in Palestine: “I was told”, said Marta, “that the passion for Italian came from us bringing the ’82 World Cup in Beirut.

They do perceive us as friends because we are very similar. Both of us are cheerful and open-hearted”. Inspired by the idea of being friendly and receptive are also the condensed and touristic reception oriented English courses taught in Bethlehem: short useful phrases to make tourist feel welcomed are learned by a small group of students, most of them being female.

“To them, women in particular,  learning a new language is a business advantage, something that opens up so many never-before-seen possibilities”, Marta tells us. Her pupils are eager to practice Italian. They are always on the hunt of new occasions to show off what they most recently learned.

They are intrigued by the  Italian way of life and they “go bananas for common sayings and slang”. They like to explore new accents and dialects and can see themselves in the variety of cultural identities of the “Bel paese”. The only thing young Franciscans moving in Italy to continue their religious journey are complaining about is the monstrous amount of pasta they are eating daily.

The Covid pandemic has temporary ended some great coming-together initiatives like the Italian Cinema Festival of Bethlehem taking place in the recently inaugurated Mosaic Centre. The situation won’t stop Pro Terra Sancta Italian teachers: a new course for Bethlehem University was recently opened. The first lesson was enough for Marta to put aside all her doubts about online classes: the first enthusiastic attempts of speaking were just as hilarious as rewarding.

In times of social distancing , learning a new language becomes a way to create new connections and share something important. It is a remedy against loneliness and feeling impotent. It brings joy and an achievable goal. Thanks to online classes Marta re-discovered the change of reaching way many more people she could physically. She also had the chance to reflect on how she personally felt enriched by the teaching experience: “results are great but I’m not able to make a list of all the even greater people I’ve met along the way. I’m so engage in my students’ life. I’ve been to elopements, weddings, I’ve seen their newborns… And then we have Iyad and Ahmad (my two students at Jericho’s Mosaic Centre) and our relationship is so marvelous . We truly are friends. As soon as it will be possible to, we’ll all meet at Itad’s house to share a real Bedouin meal”.

Palestine youth, just like Italian youth , is a blossoming asset. They are the training force that will give voice to this wounded Nation. To keep in contact with young people is to keep in contact with Hope, the hope of the Land we are at the service of. It’s so good to learn the language of our brothers and sisters while waiting to embrace them again once more.