“From Bethany to Palermo to discover the sea”. The beautiful initiative of the parish of Saints Cosmas and Damian

Giacomo Pizzi20 November 2019

“Why is the sea salty? But all of it? ”, Hussam asks innocently, looking at the sea. He is one of the seven children of the orphanage Jeel al-Amal (Generation of Hope) School and Home for Bethany boys who were hosted by some families of the parish of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Palermo from October 29th to November 5th. The children, between 9 and 13 years old, stayed in Palermo’s houses participating in the activities organized by the parish: community dinners, mountain tours and, for the first time in life, at sea. A mother who welcomed this hospitality project tells us: “When we went for a walk along the seafront we thought we wanted to wet our feet only, but as soon as the children saw the sea they threw themselves into the water dressed!”

The children of the Jeel al Amal Center, in Arabic “generation of hope”, live beyond one of the 62 walls that arose in the world after the collapse of the Berlin Wall: the barrier of separation between Israel and the Palestinian territories. From Bethany, the city of Lazarus, due to the wall, there is no longer direct access to Jerusalem and the inhabitants are subjected to movement restrictions: for this reason it is not easy for the children of the orphanage to have the opportunity to travel and take trips.

A solidarity initiative strongly supported by Don Massimo Pernice, a young and energetic Palermo priest, and Osama Hamdan, director of the Mosaic Center, with the Association pro Terra Sancta. The priest from Palermo tells us: “We made a promise this summer and we saw in the eyes of these children a bit of distrust. To show them our seriousness we organized this first trip for October ”. Father Massimo’s idea is to host for one month each summer some of the hundred children live in the family home founded in 1972 by the Palestinian Christian couple Alice and Basil Sahhar for children who have lost or been abandoned by their parents. “The smaller of the two children we hosted, initially, had difficulty adapting to the new situation. From his distrustful attitudes and his sad eyes one could clearly see a great suffering, “says Tiziana. “We heard that the father has a terminal tumor and the mother abandoned him to remarry. Thanks to the moments spent with my three children, he let himself go and finally we saw a smile on his face and the desire to play “. “In this exchange we have given, but above all received so much,” adds her husband. “Our children have had a fundamental welcome experience. The youngest didn’t want the new friends to leave, while Marco, our fourteen-year-old son, told us he wanted to come to Bethany to do a volunteer experience in the school “.

Father Massimo has a very clear idea of ​​how pilgrimage should be lived: for him knowing the Holy Land means knowing not only the places where Jesus lived, but also the encounter with the people who live there today. In these days, with a group of pilgrims, he returned to visit the children of the School and Home of Bethany and met the boys of the Mosaic Center in Jericho. “Art is a vehicle that greatly helps the exchange between cultures”, says Don Massimo, who since his first visit to the Holy Land in 2016 has established a relationship of great friendship and collaboration with Osama and the boys of the Mosaic Center. “We Palermo feel close to Palestine because our city is imbued with Arab culture and art”. Every time he visits the center he offers a moment of dialogue and a visit to the local mosque: “It is an important experience. A believer told us the Qur’anic sura in su we talk about Jesus and Mary and he kissed my hand when he learned that I am a priest. I believe that in the difference we always find the strength that unites ”.