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Shelter in Bethlehem

by Carol Hunnybun

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“But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel.”
(Mich 5:2)

Two thousand years ago, in a town five miles south of Jerusalem, a young couple named Mary and Joseph sought a place to rest. On that unforgettable night, the little town heard a cry which changed the course of history.

The town, of course, was Bethlehem, and today there are other children among its 20,000 Arab Christian residents who are in need of shelter. Some of these youngsters have found it in the Orphanage of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine.

Bethlehem Orphanage was founded to meet the great need following the first Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948, and most of the homes’ early residents were orphans of that war. Today’s girls may be either orphans, or victims of broken homes who have nowhere else to go.

Two old Bethlehem houses were converted into one, and an additional room was added later. A recently-built, (covered) play-study-recreation area now lies alongside a large outdoor playground. All the girls – now numbering 30 and ranging in age from four through eighteen – attend regular school classes.

The Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles run the orphanage which is maintained through the generosity of those in the U.S. who contribute to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and by other donors in Italy.

Mariam, a young woman who grew up in the orphanage, is always ready to talk about her life there: “The older girls look after the smallest ones, and help them take their bath in the morning. In the evening when the little ones need help, the big ones don’t hesitate to lend a hand.

“Some of the children have had their little hearts wounded, and disturbed personalities have to be dealt with. The Sisters try to face all these problems by offering the children a feeling of security, love and trust.

“Most former residents are married and living happily with their husbands and children because we had the opportunity to experience a sense of family in the orphanage.

“Sometimes we come and chat with the Sisters about the years we lived with them, and about the useful things we learned which have made our present lives and homes satisfactory.”

The orphanage has many stories of successful careers as well as marriages: Awatef is now an accountant for a Japanese firm in Amman; Mary is an adviser to the Jordanian government for the teaching of deaf-mutes and Jeannette is with Bethlehem University’s Hotel Management Department.

As Mariam says, “A sense of responsibility is fostered in the girls. But above all-love characterizes this home!”

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Carol Hunnybun is an administrator at the office of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine in Jerusalem.