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John Feister meets with a group of students from Bethlehem University to discuss the issue of Palestinian rights.

Special Features
Day 5: Bethlehem University

“I’m not against anyone, but I’m against anyone who oppresses anyone.” That statement of resistance, from an older sister who runs a school (her story another day!), strikes a theme that we Church journalists heard again and again on this immersion trip. We are in Bethlehem, after all, on Israel’s West Bank, part of the Palestinian territory under control of the Israeli government. Sentiments of absolute frustration are easy to find in Palestine.

The place where we heard it most clearly was later this day, at Bethlehem University, from a panel of five bright, young students. They look no different from students at Ohio State, Miami University or the University of Notre Dame, where I have recent experience with my own sons. This is a booming college campus.

(photo by John Feister)
These well-dressed Bethlehem students sit in the front of a lecture hall and walk us through the frustration that each one suffers simply for being Palestinian. Frankly, the whole thing reminds me of all of the complicated methods of the racist system that plagued the southern United States for decades before the Civil Rights Movement. There were all sorts of laws, rules and expectations in the South designed to wear away at people of color, day in and day out. It was repulsive there; it’s repulsive here.

The Bethlehem University students explain to us in detail how second-class treatment at the hands of the Israeli government and many citizens is holding them back. These pleasant students sound hurt and indignant at the treatment they endure daily.

They stay at the school dorms during the week, because it is simply impossible to predict how long their hour-or-less commutes might really take. People can be routinely held up at the Israeli checkpoints for hours. Christina shared some of her own experiences there.

Jacoub expressed frustration at living so close to the Mediterranean, but being blocked by a wall from going to the beach. We’ll be posting a video of the students’ testimony sometime next week.

New Zealander Christian Brother Peter Ray, vice chancellor for the university, explains that these youth will be key for Palestine’s future: “When peace comes, Palestine will need creative, resourceful people. Bethlehem University is going to create that pool.”

When will that peace come? Brother Peter explains that he is not optimistic about President Barack Obama’s peace talks. “But 30 years ago I would have said the same thing about South Africa.” Something unexplainable changed things. It was the work of the Holy Spirit, he says. That is his only cause for hope.

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Augustine of Canterbury: In the year 596, some 40 monks set out from Rome to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons in England. Leading the group was Augustine, the prior of their monastery in Rome. Hardly had he and his men reached Gaul (France) when they heard stories of the ferocity of the Anglo-Saxons and of the treacherous waters of the English Channel. Augustine returned to Rome and to the pope who had sent them—St. Gregory the Great (September 3 )—only to be assured by him that their fears were groundless. 
<p>Augustine again set out. This time the group crossed the English Channel and landed in the territory of Kent, ruled by King Ethelbert, a pagan married to a Christian, Bertha. Ethelbert received them kindly, set up a residence for them in Canterbury and within the year, on Pentecost Sunday, 597, was himself baptized. After being consecrated a bishop in France, Augustine returned to Canterbury, where he founded his see. He constructed a church and monastery near where the present cathedral, begun in 1070, now stands. As the faith spread, additional sees were established at London and Rochester. </p><p>Work was sometimes slow and Augustine did not always meet with success. Attempts to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon Christians with the original Briton Christians (who had been driven into western England by Anglo-Saxon invaders) ended in dismal failure. Augustine failed to convince the Britons to give up certain Celtic customs at variance with Rome and to forget their bitterness, helping him evangelize their Anglo-Saxon conquerors </p><p>Laboring patiently, Augustine wisely heeded the missionary principles—quite enlightened for the times—suggested by Pope Gregory the Great: purify rather than destroy pagan temples and customs; let pagan rites and festivals be transformed into Christian feasts; retain local customs as far as possible. The limited success Augustine achieved in England before his death in 605, a short eight years after he arrived in England, would eventually bear fruit long after in the conversion of England. Augustine of Canterbury can truly be called the “Apostle of England.”</p> American Catholic Blog A hero isn’t someone born with unconquerable strength and selflessness. Heroes are not formed in a cataclysmic instant. Heroism is developed over time, one decision after another, moment by moment, formed by a deliberate, chosen, and habitual response to life.


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