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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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Fidelis of Sigmaringen: If a poor man needed some clothing, Fidelis would often give the man the clothes right off his back. Complete generosity to others characterized this saint's life. 
<p>Born in 1577, Mark Rey (Fidelis was his religious name) became a lawyer who constantly upheld the causes of the poor and oppressed people. Nicknamed "the poor man's lawyer," Fidelis soon grew disgusted with the corruption and injustice he saw among his colleagues. He left his law career to become a priest, joining his brother George as a member of the Capuchin Order. His wealth was divided between needy seminarians and the poor. </p><p>As a follower of Francis, Fidelis continued his devotion to the weak and needy. During a severe epidemic in a city where he was guardian of a friary, Fidelis cared for and cured many sick soldiers. </p><p>He was appointed head of a group of Capuchins sent to preach against the Calvinists and Zwinglians in Switzerland. Almost certain violence threatened. Those who observed the mission felt that success was more attributable to the prayer of Fidelis during the night than to his sermons and instructions. </p><p>He was accused of opposing the peasants' national aspirations for independence from Austria. While he was preaching at Seewis, to which he had gone against the advice of his friends, a gun was fired at him, but he escaped unharmed. A Protestant offered to shelter Fidelis, but he declined, saying his life was in God's hands. On the road back, he was set upon by a group of armed men and killed. </p><p>He was canonized in 1746. Fifteen years later, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, which was established in 1622, recognized him as its first martyr.</p> American Catholic Blog Obedience means total surrender and wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor. All the difficulties that come in our work are the result of disobedience.


 
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