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The Young, the Old, and the Handicapped: The Mission in Israel/Palestine

Care of the needy and human development were dear to the heart of Paul VI. The Pontifical Mission director from those days remembers.

by Carol Hunnybun
photos: CNEWA files


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When I arrived in Jerusalem in 1966, the office seemed extraordinarily empty. I discovered the work here mostly was giving handouts to institutions which had done a lot in 1948-1949 to help the refugees. I thought the sums were ridiculously small.

We played the role of “lady bountiful,” so to speak. And we were resented for it. This role set up a dependency relationship. If you want to help a man, you don’t buy him apples; you help him plant an apple tree. We realized that was what we had to do.

I began to get to know people from all the different communities. And I began to see what we all know now, that the Palestinians do not need to be told how to run their own show. They need to be helped with the means to do so financially and sometimes materially.

There are a number of doctors and professional people who do not need to be told what to do. They know what to do. They all have experience, mostly trained outside, and they’re very competent – some less so than the others, the same as in America or Great Britain, but lacking a government and lacking institutions that could facilitate building structures. This is the situation during both the Jordanian and Israeli occupations.

Helping build a structure of services is the role of the private voluntary agencies in a situation like this, during a military occupation. Back then, though, we were doing little about it.

The Pontifical Mission Orphanage was a response to community needs. I remember the first time Helen and I visited it, at Christmas time that first year, 1963-1964. The children did a play, and we had to hold our sides to stop laughing. If you went on a Friday, the children were in long grey overalls and were washing the floor, and it was just like something out of Dickens. It was dreadful. It was partly due to the lack of funds. All that changed later with Sr. Elisabeth Marie; the children blossomed. The whole atmosphere there at the orphanage changed.

The scholarship project at the Salesian Technical School in Bethlehem is another example of Pontifical Mission expanding into the community. It was very valuable because it was one of the few places which was training boys for work with their hands in the area. Still today there are too many intellectuals and too few workmen.

The difficult part of that phenomenon is the increased importance education takes on with the loss of land, with the loss of a country. Refugees cannot carry their household with them. If every twenty years or so something occurs and they have to flee again – well, education you take with you, and that is very valuable.

Another response of the Pontifical Mission to local needs was the Ephpheta School for the Hearing Impaired. The idea was started as a result of the papal visit in 1964 because Pope Paul VI was known to have a particular feeling for deaf-mute people. The Sisters of St. Dorothy staff it, and the Vatican did a lot directly for it. It is one of the most successful institutions, one of the most professional in the country.

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Tags: Jerusalem Education Relief Bethlehem Disabilities