As is the case each year, a delegation from the Hlc, the Coordinating Group of the Bishops’ Conferences in support of the Church in the Holy Land, is visiting the Holy Land: the objective is to meet those most in need and helpless, to learn first-hand about the problems experienced by the local Christian communities, and to calibrate strategies and support programs to aid the entire population.
According to the Portuguese Mons. Duarte da Cunha, Secretary-General of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE): “We will go wherever those most vulnerable and suffering are to bring a message of peace and hope, giving witness to them of the bond between our churches. Our visit also aims to provide support to the mission of the local Church, always close to the suffering. At the same time we wish to examine in depth the reality of these social peripheries in order to support more effectively the work for justice and peace in our own countries.”
After visiting Gaza and Hebron and meeting with the residents of the Cremisan Valley, on the morning of Thursday 14 January it was the turn of Bethlehem: the bishops and representatives of the Bishops’ Conferences of the US, EU and Canada, along with representatives of the CCEE and the COMECE (Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community), had the opportunity to learn more about some of the charitable realities in the city where Jesus was born.
A number of them, accompanied by representatives of religious organizations and journalists, came to the Società Antoniana to learn about our elderly, their stories, and the sisters who for years have taken care of them with such dedication and humility.
In Bethlehem being old is difficult. The Palestinian health system depends on external assistance, and the city does not have any program of social security that can provide the population with essential health and social services; nor are there any social security funds that are able to help alleviate, even if only partially, the burdens on families. Alone, often abandoned by their families, ill and without access to support services, the elderly find themselves living isolated in their own homes or in shelters that, due to the crisis, are unable to satisfy their basic needs and provide basic medical care.
The Italian Archbishop Mons. Riccardo Fontana, the U.S. Bishop Mons. Oscar Cantue and the Secretary of the European Bishops’ Conference Mons. Duarte da Cunha spent a considerable time talking to the elderly from the rest home, offering smiles, caresses and words of comfort, urging them to never become discouraged; though they may be suffering and ill, they remain an element of richness for society. The group also met with the volunteers, encouraging them to continue serving those most in need wherever they may be. The delegation then joined with the elderly from the daycare center to share their lunch at the soup kitchen. To thank them for their visit and the attention shown to them, the group of elderly from the daycare center sang the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic.
The prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps in a more incisive manner than the bustling of the many. In an age that tends to exclude those who are no longer young and productive, older people should be supported, protected and valued, because they are the glue that holds society together, custodians of the collective memory of an entire country.