"When we decided to sponsor a student through the FFHL, I never imagined we'd feel so connected," Joan O'Leary reflects. "The letter came just a few weeks before Christmas. Nestled among all of the Christmas cards that arrived that day, was the one unexpected letter that brought the most joy to my heart. The return address on the envelope indicated it came from a school in Bethlehem. When I opened it, I found a letter from a mother, thanking us for sponsoring her daughter, and a photo of an adorable little girl."
In the letter, the mother shared how grateful she was for the family's support of her daughter's education, and what a difference it would make for their family.
"What took my breath away, though, was the name of the little girl we're sponsoring," Joan said. "Over the past few years, I've developed a strong devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes. When our family went through an extremely difficult time, she kept popping up. A friend randomly gave me a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. We received cards with her on the cover, we were given holy water from Lourdes. Prayers to Our Lady of Lourdes were answered in remarkable ways and we were even gifted a pilgrimage to Lourdes which brought us countless blessings.
"When I saw the little girl's name - Lourdes - I was blown away. A name can be something so simple - and yet it creates this amazing connection between our family and theirs. We're thousands of miles apart. We've never met - and probably never will. And yet, we share so much in common. Our faith, our devotions, the desire to educate our children and give them the best that we possibly can."
When asked why she decided to sponsor a Holy Land student's education, Joan was passionate in her response: "I had no idea of the difficulty Christians experience living in the Holy Land until a friend introduced me to the Franciscan Foundation a few months ago," she shared. "I've never been to the Holy Land, but I pray I will be able to go someday, and I'd really love to take my own children. But the statistics are alarming. If there will be no Christians left in the Holy Land in 60 years, what will it be like in 20 years, when I hope to be able to go? What will it be like in 50 years when my children want to take their children? This is the single most important place in all of Christianity, and yet the Christian churches could all be empty - or occupied by businesses, other religions, or museums - potentially in my lifetime.
"Our family isn't one of great means, but this seemed like something we could carve into the budget. It means a few less stops at fast food restaurants, but I've come to see that as a blessing in-and-of itself - more time eating at home, together as a family. And to know that Lourdes and her family are able to more comfortably enjoy a meal in their own home. We've enjoyed it as a family. Her picture hangs on our refrigerator, and we pray for her and her family every day."
The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land supports Holy Land Christians in many ways. To learn more about sponsoring a student, or to view a full list of the variety of programs we operate, click on the buttons below.