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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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Michael Giedroyc: A life of physical pain and mental torment didn’t prevent Michael Giedroyc from achieving holiness. 
<p>Born near Vilnius, Lithuania, Michael suffered from physical and permanent handicaps from birth. He was a dwarf who had the use of only one foot. Because of his delicate physical condition, his formal education was frequently interrupted. But over time, Michael showed special skills at metalwork. Working with bronze and silver, he created sacred vessels, including chalices.</p><p>He traveled to Kraków, Poland, where he joined the Augustinians. He received permission to live the life of a hermit in a cell adjoining the monastery. There Michael spent his days in prayer, fasted and abstained from all meat and lived to an old age. Though he knew the meaning of suffering throughout his years, his rich spiritual life brought him consolation. Michael’s long life ended in 1485 in Kraków.</p><p>Five hundred years later, Pope John Paul II visited the city and spoke to the faculty of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. The 15th century in Kraków, the pope said, was “the century of saints.” Among those he cited was Blessed Michael Giedroyc.</p> American Catholic Blog The French novelist Leon Bloy once said that there is only one tragedy in life: not to be a saint. It may be that God permits some suffering as the only way to wake someone from a dream of self-sufficiency and illusory happiness.


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