The Catholic Women’s League of Canada partnered with CNEWA Canada to support two projects in the Holy Land. Last week 12 members had the opportunity to see the fruits of their generous and hard work. A few sat down with Bradley H. Kerr to reflect on the experience.
What is the Catholic Women’s League of Canada?
Velma Harasen, former national president: It’s a national organization of Christian women from across Canada. We have just under 100,000 women. Our motto is “For God and Canada.” We do work in parishes, community service, leadership development, spiritual development and social justice.
The theme during my two years as national president was Faith and Justice, and we looked for an international project we could all rally around. We thought: “The Holy Land is the center of our faith. We see the injustice there. Why don’t we find a project that supports Holy Land Christians, particularly women?” That’s when we started working with CNEWA Canada.
Janet McLean, former provincial president for Quebec: Carl Hétu from CNEWA presented eight options to our national executive and provincial presidents. I was involved with that discussion. It’s funny how we all picked the Infant Welfare Center as our first choice. It was unanimous. We were all drawn to the idea of helping women and their children.
The Infant Welfare Center is a Christian daycare in the Old City of Jerusalem. What did you accomplish for them?
Velma: The center is primarily a daycare, but our particular project was to assist young women aged 12-15 who are on the verge of dropping out of school in order to work in restaurants and hotels during the tourist season. When the season is over, the girls lose their jobs but don’t go back to school. The project we supported was to prevent dropping out and to try to get those who do, back into school.
Once you picked a project, what did you do?
Barbara McDonald: We took it to the grassroots — the provinces, dioceses and parishes. We explained the initiative, and brought some visuals. Then the ladies had a lot of bake sales and other fundraisers. The donations were very, very generous.
Velma: During my time as president, I had the privilege of going to every province to speak about it. It was amazing how generous people were. This was my dream, and it came true.
Now you’ve seen the Center. What did you think?
Barb: I was impressed by the director. She thinks about today and tomorrow. She’s creative. ? She’s got energy.
Janet: They coordinate with the girls’ families and their schools. They get the mothers of the girls involved. That’s encouraging. Teenagers are the same all over the world — if it’s easer to earn money than go to school, they’ll take the easy way out. But three girls have gone back to school and are doing really well. It’s nice to know we were able to help them.
Angela Pomeroy: What a loving group of staff. There’s a lot happening in the Holy Land that we have difficulty making sense of. What Christians have to deal with — it would crush many people. But through it all, the Infant Welfare Center maintains the Christian values of love, dignity and hope.
You quickly met your fundraising goal and picked a second project with the Shepherd’s Field Hospital in Beit Sahour, Palestine. Can you tell us about it?
Velma: The hospital looks after new mothers and babies. The staff explained that vitamin deficiency is a common problem they see. We raised money to provide vitamin supplements.
Barb: The program also involves education and prevention.
Janet: They showed us pamphlets they distribute to mothers about how to stay healthy. I thought, “This is good. It’s the little things like this that don’t get the funding. But sometimes they are more important than the big things.”
What did you think of the hospital?
Velma: I was quite overwhelmed with the things they are accomplishing in very sparse conditions.
Barb: By our norms, the building is small.
Velma: The labor and delivery room had two cots. I asked the nurses, “What do you do when you have two women in labor at the same time?” They said, “Oh, we can handle three! We manage!”
Angela: When you look at us as mothers and what we had in delivering our children, it’s luxurious compared to what people cope with in Palestine. But they make it beautiful and loving with such little resources.
Barb: What struck me is that as much as it is a Christian hospital, they accept anyone and everyone who needs services. And it you can’t pay, if you don’t have money, fine. The staff maneuvers the finances so they can cover many free deliveries.
I was impressed that the hospital is a cooperative.
Brenda Killick: The members work collaboratively as a community of like-minded citizens to improve the health of women and children.
Barb: They are doing things for themselves, for their community, for those in need. It’s not that the hospital asks for handouts — yes, they do need help and we provided it — but families pay money to be a part of the cooperative. By our standards it’s not a high amount. ? And when they use the hospital, the members pay a lower fee than nonmembers.
How are you going to take this experience back to your parishes in Canada?
Barb: I think those of us who came on this pilgrimage will be messengers. We will try to enlighten, encourage, incite and educate.
Janet: I would like to see the Catholic Women’s League stay involved. This trip has reinforced for me how important it is to support the Christians of the Holy Land.
Angela: I’m an educated woman. I think I know a little bit about some things. But I knew nothing about the Christians in the Holy Land and how they are living. I can’t wait to develop a presentation for my parish. There are things we can all do to help Holy Land Christians, and the most important is prayer.
Former C.W.L. President Velma Harasen meets with Infant Welfare Center Director Tania Awwad in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNEWA)