Synod: Holy Land’s Catholic Schools

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Funding Catholic-run educational institutions in the Holy Land is a top priority, especially given that a huge number of students are Muslim, said a Catholic professor who serves as a member of the Palestinian parliament.

Of the approximately 3,000 students enrolled in Catholic-run Bethlehem University, 70 percent are Muslim, Bernard Sabella said during an Oct. 15 press briefing organized by the New York branch of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

When Christian donors ask him “why should we in the U.S. or in Canada support Bethlehem University” when so many students are Muslim, he said he tells them it’s because Catholic-run schools “open the mind to the broader world.”

Sabella, associate professor of sociology at the university, said the students learn valuable language and computer skills that expose them to the outside world and different ideas.

Catholic schools also stress the importance of the human family and the need to work for the common good, he explained while describing how another synod participant told him that whenever he speaks with Muslims who went to a Catholic-run institution, they “speak a different language than what we hear from fundamentalists and more extreme people.”

“Investing in education for Christians and Muslims alike is an absolutely top priority,” he said.

Sabella was at the Vatican attending the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East as an observer appointed by Pope Benedict XVI.

The professor is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council representing the city of Jerusalem and is executive secretary of the department of services to Palestinian refugees in the Middle East Council of Churches, which works in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel.

Since Bethlehem University’s establishment by Pope Paul VI in 1973, many of its 12,000 graduates have stayed in the Holy Land, he said. Many have jobs in the Palestinian government or work in church-run clinics and institutions offering health and social services staffed by both Muslims and Christians, he said.

Globalization also has opened new job opportunities in the Palestinian territories “because the market has become more international and open,” Sabella explained. Israel and the Palestinian territories are seeing the establishment of more nongovernmental organizations, which “target highly educated people” and offer competitive salaries, he said.

Sabella said some synod fathers from the Middle East have emphasized the problems of living life “under duress, in difficulty, being stuck in a corner. This is not the attitude to take.”

If a family or person’s life or safety is in danger, then it is right to leave, but if not, running away is not the answer, he said.

Instead, Christians must assert their legitimate presence and courageously carve out an active place in society and promote peace and democracy, he said.

“We need to insist on peacemaking, that is our task,” he said.

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