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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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Madeleine Sophie Barat: The legacy of Madeleine Sophie Barat can be found in the more than 100 schools operated by her Society of the Sacred Heart, institutions known for the quality of the education made available to the young. 
<p>Sophie herself received an extensive education, thanks to her brother, Louis, 11 years older and her godfather at Baptism. Himself a seminarian, he decided that his younger sister would likewise learn Latin, Greek, history, physics and mathematics—always without interruption and with a minimum of companionship. By age 15, she had received a thorough exposure to the Bible, the teachings of the Fathers of the Church and theology. Despite the oppressive regime Louis imposed, young Sophie thrived and developed a genuine love of learning. </p><p>Meanwhile, this was the time of the French Revolution and of the suppression of Christian schools. The education of the young, particularly young girls, was in a troubled state. At the same time, Sophie, who had concluded that she was called to the religious life, was persuaded to begin her life as a nun and as a teacher. She founded the Society of the Sacred Heart, which would focus on schools for the poor as well as boarding schools for young women of means; today, co-ed Sacred Heart schools can be found as well as schools exclusively for boys. </p><p>In 1826, her Society of the Sacred Heart received formal papal approval. By then she had served as superior at a number of convents. In 1865, she was stricken with paralysis; she died that year on the feast of the Ascension. </p><p>Madeleine Sophie Barat was canonized in 1925.</p> American Catholic Blog When you go to Jesus, you’re not going to a God who only knows heaven; instead, you’re placing your hurting heart into pierced hands that understand both the pain of suffering and the glory of redemption.


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