Christian families working together in Holy Land
Recently, Helene Paharik, director of the diocesan Department for Human Dignity, traveled to the Holy Land to visit and pray with Catholic organizations in the region. Following is the third excerpt from her journal describing a day spent in Bethlehem with Hanan Nasrallah of Catholic Relief Services. To learn more about CRS, visit their website at: www.crs.org.
After visiting the glass-making organization in Bethlehem, Hanan took me beyond Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity to a fair-trade organization that produces olive wood rosaries and religious articles. I have purchased and shared hundreds of olive wood rosaries myself over the years, but I had begun to wonder: Is there enough olive wood? Is this craft sustainable? My worries were eased when we walked into a courtyard filled with olive wood branches, the product of annual pruning.
Hanan explained that when the farmers trim their trees every year, this company purchases the wood. Thus, it is a win-win for everyone involved, which is a hallmark of fair trade.
As we followed the olive wood branches through their production cycle, I found that it is a sometimes noisy and dusty journey, but one that ultimately results in transformation. At a small building that opened into the street, three men were working large machines to cut the branches into uniform blocks of wood. Speaking over the din, Hanan pointed out that CRS encourages safety practices such as protective gear for eyes and ears.
In this particular shop, families work together. Husbands traditionally operate the heavy equipment and their wives do the detail work and packaging. Mothers with small children string the rosaries at home if they choose.
I was reminded of Mary and Joseph who each did their part to bring about the birth of Jesus. Today in Bethlehem, Christian families are working together so that you and I can have an olive wood Nativity scene to recall our Savior’s birth there so long ago.
We were hot and tired after touring the fair-trade production sites, so I was glad that it was time for lunch. Hanan invited me to a shwarma restaurant owned by a Christian family.
We ordered our meat-filled wraps, added a few vegetables from the buffet and found a table where we could talk. I asked her about her work with CRS, and she told me that she recently led Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., on a tour. She explained that CRS in the Holy Land is working not only on fair trade, but also on food security, peace building, positive civic engagement and development.
While in the region, Cardinal McCarrick also visited CRS projects that provide relief for the victims of the violence in Syria. Since March 2011 through early July 2012, 15,000 lives have been lost there. The U.N. recently reported that at least 500,000 Syrians have fled their homes for the safety of neighboring countries. Hanan told me CRS is providing food, medicine and most of all security to Syrian refugees in Jordan.
“What CRS and our partners need now is medical assistance. We have a staff of about 30 volunteers in northern Jordan assisting Syrian refugees with basic necessities, but now we’re seeing refugee families in need of medical attention,” she said. It is a challenge to bring comfort and hope to such traumatized families.
Hanan also talked about the critical situation in Gaza. More than 75 percent of Gazans are under the age of 25, and the unemployment rate is more than 40 percent. Helping Gaza college graduates to find jobs is one way that CRS is expanding opportunities for desperate young people. Last year in Gaza, CRS placed more than 800 college graduates in professional internships, which led to full-time jobs for many.
Knowing that her heart has been pierced by the ongoing suffering of her people, I asked Hanan what gives her hope. Over the course of many decades, politicians have been incapable of bringing about a just and peaceful resolution. Given the absence of any possibility for a solution on the horizon, it would be understandable if she felt despair.
However, she responded in a way that was reminiscent of Anna and Simeon, who had waited so patiently in the Temple for the coming of the Messiah. Echoing the words of Simeon, she told me that in small places, in the hearts of people, she has discovered goodness and reconciliation. She has seen the dawning of salvation. She gently reminded me that it is a characteristic of Christians to wait in joyful hope.