CNEWA and its donors help fund numerous Holy Land projects, including mother and child clinics in Gaza and the Paul VI Ephpheta Institute for the hearing impaired in Bethlehem, pictured. Photo courtesy Joseph Hazboun

Canadians help keep hope alive in Holy Land

  • May 13, 2023

Despite living under dark clouds of uncertainty and fear, Christians in the Holy Land are still a beacon of light and a much-needed presence there, says Joseph Hazboun.

And, says the regional director of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), Canadians have a hand in keeping the light of faith, hope and charity burning in an area that’s frequently darkened by conflict and violence.

Speaking from his office in Jerusalem, Hazboun said the tiny Christian population (73,000 according to the 2022 census) provides 33 per cent of all social services — including health care and education — to the entire region comprising Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

“And Catholics in Canada are contributing to these efforts,” he said. “We at CNEWA (Jerusalem) greatly appreciate the support of the Canadian people — the Church and the lay people and the Catholic Women’s League of Canada — for their support through financial donations, prayers, raising awareness and solidarity.” 

Without glossing over the well-documented hardships from years of conflict and the loss of morale due to large-scale emigration, Hazboun pointed out that the Christian presence is an important piece of the social fabric.

“The Christian presence is not about numbers but about how much we contribute to the peace and stability of the region,” Hazboun said.

This is not to say that life is smooth or easy for Christians (and others), he noted. Christians are often caught in the crossfire between warring sides and suffer as much as anyone else from the violence that rocks the region.

“I asked a colleague of mine about his experience of attending the Easter service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. He replied that his child was traumatized because the police pushed and kept beating them back behind barricades,” Hazboun said.

But Christian charities are resolutely pursuing their work of helping the poor and vulnerable, providing services they wouldn’t otherwise have, he added.

Social welfare projects supported by the worldwide Christian community are an immense source of comfort to the needy and give hope for the future to young Palestinian Christians.

“For example, CNEWA Canada supports the Scout troops and youth leadership programs, pastoral activities, youth and children Bible summer camps, Bible education and Bible competitions,” he said.

CNEWA Canada, also supports the Paul VI Ephpheta Institute for the hearing impaired in Bethlehem, providing education and rehabilitation for 180 deaf and mute children. It also helps the Pontifical Mission Cultural and Education Center in Bethlehem in helping school-age children develop their talents and abilities, and prepares a generation of readers. 

In addition to all of this, CNEWA Canada supports the Near East Council of Churches’ three mother and child clinics in Gaza helping thousands of mothers and their newborn babies from pregnancy to after delivery.

Pilgrims who come from Canada and other countries to visit the sacred sites are an important source of help as well, Hazboun pointed out.

“Coming here on a pilgrimage supports a number of local Christians, owners of mother of pearl and olivewood factories, bus drivers, tour guides, souvenir shops and the families that work at these shops.”

One of these pilgrimages, by a Catholic Women’s League (CWL) group from Canada, was the beginning of a long-term partnership between CWL and CNEWA.

“I was in Jerusalem in 2010 for the Centenary Assembly of the World Union of Catholic Women,” Velma Harasen, former CWL national president told The Catholic Register from Saskatoon.

For Harasen it was an unforgettable experience being among 31 Canadians, joining nearly 500 women from 60 countries for visits to holy sites, daily reflection and prayer.

“Our (CWL’s) theme that year was: ‘centred in peace and
justice,’ ” she said. “And the Holy Land is the centre of our faith.”

She decided that CWL Canada would help Christian charities there through its permanent voluntary fund.

Harasen said that since the first visit she has been to the Holy Land on numerous pilgrimages, three of them with CNEWA, met with Christians and witnessed their struggles. She heard heartbreaking stories such as that of Nora Kort, a young Palestinian Christian mother who had been forced off her land, and then had to buy water from her own land.

Harasen said that despite the hardships she witnessed, she was nevertheless encouraged by the spirit of hope among the Christians she encountered.

“Christians in Palestine have great faith and hope. And CNEWA does wonderful work. They have people on the ground to monitor projects, and very little overhead costs,” she said.

Hazboun is immensely grateful that CWL Canada’s support continues to this day.

“We greatly appreciate the Catholic Women’s League for their commitment,” he said. “Currently they support the remedial education program of the Infant Welfare Center in the Old City of Jerusalem, providing services to working parents through their nursery, as well as the remedial education program that supports students improve their achievement at school and have a better future as they are enabled to complete their education.”

Besides the Shepherds’ Field Well-Baby Clinic, CWL Canada supports the Rosary Sisters Model United Nations, which helps girls build their skills in research, communication, presentation and public speaking.

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