In Bethlehem we work for peace

Jacopo Battistini19 April 2024

In Bethlehem since the beginning of October, there has been an air of uncertainty and tension. The war that is devastating the Holy Land has hit Bethlehem in its nerve center: the advent of the conflict has led to the end of religious tourism, the city’s main source of livelihood. For months now, many people have lost their jobs and are in serious economic difficulty, with no prospect of improvement. on the contrary, the influx of tourists and pilgrims is decreasing day by day, and the development of international events – especially Israel’s recent attack on Damascus and Iran’s response – certainly does not favor the resumption of visits and pilgrimages to the city of the Child Jesus.

This situation requires prompt intervention before it becomes unsolvable, and we at Pro Terra Sancta have placed ourselves at the side of the families affected by the crisis with the development of a new, important project. The initial idea belongs to Sister Anna, of the order of the Daughters of St. Anne, who has been in charge of the social service office of the parish of Bethlehem for a year and is therefore very attentive and involved in supporting citizens in difficulty. In Palestine, on the other hand, the sisters have a fundamental role in helping the most fragile people, so much so that our contact person for our projects in Bethlehem – says that the sisters “in fact replace a non-existent welfare state”. With the proposal to support the newly unemployed in Bethlehem, Sr. Anna offered an excellent demonstration of this.

Sister Anna in Bethlehem.
Sister Anna, head of the social service office of the parish of Bethlehem.

Sister Anna’s idea

“Before the war,” she tells us, “our parish offered help to about seventy people a week; Now the number of people who come to us for support has more than tripled, reaching almost two hundred and fifty people every week.”

Sister Anna then explains how the economic subsidies offered by the parish, over the months, have become insufficient to restore an idea of normality in Bethlehem: “Many at the beginning asked directly for offerings, but with the passage of time receiving only money, without being able to work to earn it, began to be perceived as a lack of dignity. Man has always sought the dignity of work, it has always been the possibility of earning a living that makes people feel at peace with themselves and with what they possess.”

This is where the idea of helping those who have lost their jobs in a way other than just a cash contribution was born: “Seeing all these desperate and humiliated people unable to earn a living, I thought of a possible solution to help them by offering them a job. I inquired about the profession of those who asked us for help and I tried to offer everyone a job similar to the skills and experience of each one, to restore everyone’s rightful dignity; If someone who used to do the cleaning in the hotels came to me, for example, I tried to relocate him to keep the various structures related to the parish in order, and I always tried to guarantee an adequate remuneration even to those who could only work half a day.”

“Now, thanks to Pro Terra Sancta, we can help many more people: if before, with the resources of the parish alone, we did not always have sufficient funds available for everyone, now the project is to guarantee all those who ask us twenty hours of work per week and a salary, albeit minimal.”

The impact of the project

The project is only in its infancy, yet it has already helped many people: “I went around all the charities in the city to see if they needed workers, and then I searched among the people who had approached me to see if there was anyone suitable for the role. Once I found the right person, I would send them to one of these works, paying for them with our funds.” In this way, those who had been left without work rediscover the possibility not only to support themselves with dignity, but also to help their city, rediscovering the value that working assumes not only to support one’s family, or to restore one’s dignity, but also to help one’s community.

The situation in Bethlehem is still particularly difficult; as Sister Anna explains, “Bethlehem is very damaged precisely because it lives mainly on tourism, and the economic damage caused by its interruption is enormous, and destined to grow further.” But despite the difficulties, she is hopeful, and leaves us with a note of hope: “Thanks to the help of Pro Terra Sancta and other organizations, it will be possible to overcome this too, and rebuild Bethlehem. This initiative is just one example of all the ways in which we can help people in need: we must continue to work together to build a better future for Bethlehem and for the whole Holy Land.”

View of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.