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Will There Be Any Christians in the Holy Land? View Comments
By John Feister

A young Palestinian carries palms for a Holy Week procession while Israeli soldiers look on. Their presence is highly controversial.


YOU LIKE IT? Well, you bought it.” We are standing on an overlook at Bethlehem University. I am admiring a sweeping highway bridge across an expansive valley. My Palestinian guide, Sami El-Yousef, explains that the distant highway, essentially a road to allow Israelis to bypass the checkpoints of the Palestinian territory, where Bethlehem is, was paid for by U.S. dollars.

For the first time, on my first-ever trip to Israel, I understand that, as a U.S. taxpayer, I really influence what happens here, the place where “Middle East peace” isn’t happening. The lives of real people, many of whom are Christian, are in the balance. Sami is one of them.

Meeting Sami El-Yousef might challenge most Americans’ notions of Palestinians. We hear of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, dressed in garb foreign to us, throwing rocks, speaking the language of another place. Sami is a 50-year-old educator, graduated from UMass-Amherst and University of Pittsburgh as an industrial engineer. He later spent some years in California.

He is Orthodox Christian, from the “other lung of the Church,” as Pope John Paul II called it. As we walk together through the streets of Old City Jerusalem, his home, he is dressed in “business casual” (short-sleeved shirt and tie). He speaks English.

At this point in life, Sami, whose family goes back generations in Jerusalem, has moved from academia to the front lines in developing his country. He left his 24-year career as teacher, dean, then vice president for finances and planning at Bethlehem University to work for the Pontifical Mission Society. Known here as Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the society provides financial support for Catholic projects in the Middle East, northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.
Sami serves as regional director for Palestine and Israel. The Jerusalem office is basically next door to his childhood home.

Late last year, in preparation for Pope Benedict’s Special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, he served as a guide for a group of journalists from American Catholic publications, including St. Anthony Messenger.

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John Feister is general editor of periodicals at St. Anthony Messenger Press. In September he traveled to Israel with Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

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Benedict Joseph Labre: Benedict Joseph Labre was truly eccentric, one of God's special little ones. Born in France and the eldest of 18 children, he studied under his uncle, a parish priest. Because of poor health and a lack of suitable academic preparation he was unsuccessful in his attempts to enter the religious life. Then, at 16 years of age, a profound change took place. Benedict lost his desire to study and gave up all thoughts of the priesthood, much to the consternation of his relatives. 
<p>He became a pilgrim, traveling from one great shrine to another, living off alms. He wore the rags of a beggar and shared his food with the poor. Filled with the love of God and neighbor, Benedict had special devotion to the Blessed Mother and to the Blessed Sacrament. In Rome, where he lived in the Colosseum for a time, he was called "the poor man of the Forty Hours Devotion" and "the beggar of Rome." The people accepted his ragged appearance better than he did. His excuse to himself was that "our comfort is not in this world." </p><p>On the last day of his life, April 16, 1783, Benedict Joseph dragged himself to a church in Rome and prayed there for two hours before he collapsed, dying peacefully in a nearby house. Immediately after his death the people proclaimed him a saint. </p><p>He was officially proclaimed a saint by Pope Leo XIII at canonization ceremonies in 1883.</p> American Catholic Blog Today offers limitless possibilities for holiness. Lean into His grace. The only thing keeping us from sainthood is ourselves.

 
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