(Custodia) A few days before Christmas the Terra Sancta School in Bethlehem echoed with shouts of joy, laughter, pats on the back and the sound of bells. The reason? Santa’s coming to the young boys of the Child House – or Franciscan Boys Home.
This home accommodates 34 boys from 6 to 18 years old. They come from disadvantaged families experiencing social problems, unemployment, violence … a result of the difficult economic situation in which Palestine is immersed. About half of them are external: they sleep with their parents but spend the afternoons after school at the Child House, which, in a structured environment, demanding but caring, they receive tutoring and accompaniment. The rest of the children live at home and come to their places to be with their parents only for the weekend. They are accompanied by 13 adults who work with and for them: teachers, a cook, social workers, a maid …
That day, all the boys had gathered in the school chapel to celebrate the Christmas Mass presided by Fr. Dobromir Jasztal, the Custodial Vicar. His homily addressed the promise of peace and justice that Jesus fulfilled by coming to Earth. It is difficult to see it in the current situation of the country, but the key is to understand that we do not build peace by trying to destroy the other, but rather by making room for Jesus and sharing His peace with each other.
After the Mass ended, Santa Claus arrived, and distributed gifts with Fr. Dobromir and Fr. Peter Vasko, president of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land. Each was called by his first name, and received a toy, clothing and chocolates. “It’s been a week we prepare this feast, says brother Marwan. The gifts are personalized; each one receives toys according to age. It took time to choose everything. We are like a family with 34 children!”
Benefactors of the House of the Child were present for the festivities. These are 18 families of Bethlehem or Jerusalem providing financial and material support to this beautiful project.
When we asked Fr. Marwan why this Christmas is important for young people, he sincerely answered: “It is important for children to have fun and receive gifts. To be a strong and good adult you have to have lived your childhood correctly, with its share of carelessness, games and good memories”. But he says with conviction: “Perhaps you thought I was going to talk about religion and the meaning of this holiday, but no! These are children. They do not think about religion, theology, which are adult concerns. Our priority is that they create quality memories.”
Nevertheless, we feel that this Child House radiates the presence of Jesus, Bethlehem child like them. In the willingness of the team to make these boys men of good will, in the services that the adults brought to the youngest and in the joy they share of being all together for this Christmas.
Thank you to all who so generous donated to all the works of our Christmas campaign. May God bless each and every one of you.