ACN News, Monday, 16 January 2006 – BETHLEHEM
Carving hope for the helpless
By John Pontifex
A LOW turn-out at the Christmas festivities in Bethlehem provided cold comfort for the little town’s beleaguered Christians – but an act of solidarity inspired by a Catholic charity has put a smile back on their faces.
Reports showed a woeful attendance at the traditional services centring on the Church of the Nativity as Bethlehem experienced its first Christmas behind the wall erected by the Jerusalem authorities to separate the Palestinian territories from the State of Israel.
Even members of European consulates stationed in the Holy Land stayed away from the services amid bomb scares, heightened security and extra travel restrictions created by the wall.
For Christians in Bethlehem who scrape a living from hand-made cribs, rosaries and other items crafted from local olive wood, a shortage of visitors would normally have spelled disaster.
But instead, sales of their handiwork remained high thanks to the charity, Aid to the Church in Need, which retailed cribs and rosaries across Australia, the UK, Portugal, Brazil and Canada.
The sale of more than 20,000 items – some of which were also bought and distributed by the Apostleship of the Sea, the Catholic charity for seafarers – provided work for more than 20 poverty-stricken families in and around Bethlehem.
Bethlehem retailer Victor Tabash, who farms work out to neighbouring olive wood crafters, said: “I don’t know how to thank Aid to the Church in Need and all those who support the charity’s work.”
“It is absolutely amazing what has been happening,” said Mr Tabash who runs a shop of devotional gifts in central Bethlehem. He added: “What you have done has given us all so much hope.”
Aid to the Church in Need, which helps suffering Christians worldwide, came up with the olive wood products scheme amid reports that poverty – as well as oppression – was driving the faithful from the Holy Land.
Christian emigration and the influx of Muslims and Jews have meant Christians have fallen from being 20 percent of the population to as low as 1.8 percent.
Conflict and oppression combine with poverty to cause a crisis in an area where a labourer’s wage – similar to the price of a kilo of meat – is only 50 shekels, barely 25 percent of the going rate in Jerusalem.
The problem is worsened by high living costs in many parts of the Palestinian territories especially around Bethlehem, where conflict has made supplies and services scarce.
Mr Tabash said Christians had renewed hope. “This last year, the rosaries and cribs project has helped a lot of families. We have given a lot of people a reason to stay. We have helped them to hope in the future. Long may it continue.”
Photo: Victor Tabash in his store with Fr Don Moore
For information about ACN olive wood devotional gifts contact the Sydney office of Aid to the Church in Need, Po Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Tel. (02) 0679-1929
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need is a registered charity dedicated to the support of persecuted and poverty-stricken Christians.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world, especially Eastern Europe.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, more than 42 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
For more information about Aid to the Church in Need, contact the Sydney office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: email@example.com or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web: www.aidtochurch.org