St. Patrick’s Parish in Cedar Falls hosted a talk by peace activist and Franciscan Custody friar Father Peter Vasko, OFM.
Fr. Vasko, president of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, told a riveted audience of the daily hardships faced by the Church’s Arab Christians there and how it is leading to a crisis for the Church in the Holy Land.
Father Vasko, having lived among the Arab Christians in the Holy Land for the last 18 years, was blunt in his appraisal of the current situation and how it began.
“In 1999, the peace process fell apart,” he says. “Israel controls every aspect of Palestinian lives. Even the international community has not been able to stop the violence. How did they get this far?”
Father Vasko went on to say that “there has been a disproportionate use of force via F16 fighter planes to kill Palestinians but, more importantly, killing involves every Palestinian man, woman, and child who is considered ‘collateral damage.’” The result of this no-win situation has given rise to the suicide bomber as the only effective weapon with which to strike back.
“Ultimate despair turns some into suicide bombers and this must always be condemned,” the Franciscan said. “There can never ever be any justification for suicide bombing, but the Palestinian population sees it as a means to hit back n any possible way.”
Father Vasko states that the Arab Christians there are being killed along with the Muslim population. They are given no special treatment. “They are seen as siding with the West on the one hand by Muslims because of their religion, and by Israel they are seen as terrorist Arabs,” the priest said. “The Arab Christians do not join in the fighting, but are representing the voice of peace.”
Father Vasko covered a variety of horrific conditions experienced by the Arab Christians in terms of lack of schooling due to closures and land confiscations condemned for years by the Geneva Convention that result in loss of jobs.
“Many Christians have left the Holy Land in order to look for work and freedom elsewhere,” he said. “There is a fear that unless this flow of Christians leaving the Holy Land doesn’t end soon, there will be none left there and the shrines will become museums.”
Despite the dark future for these Christians, Father Vasko’s foundation has worked hard to give hope for the young people living there. Scholarships to the major universities are provided to students with the hope that if they can succeed in getting an education, a job will follow and that will lead to bolstering a family system under threat for its very survival.
Once a job has been obtained, young people can marry and hope for their own home, but the building of a house is not easily permitted to Palestinians due to Israeli restrictions on permits.
Father Vasko’s foundation also provides for the building of houses, thus creating jobs for the people but also a home so young people can marry and stay there.
Father Vasko says that the Arab Christians do not want to leave their homeland but are being forced to do so.
For more information about Father Vasko’s foundation and his work in the Holy Land check the website at www.ffhl.org or send a contribution to the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, 1400 Quincy St. NE, Washington, D.C., 20017
March 28, 2004
By Sue Stanton