News from the charity Friends of the Holy Land (April 2021)

As schoolchildren return to some normality in the UK, churches and schools across the diocese are invited to step out to help support education in the Holy Land where Covid is forcing families to pull their children out of Christian schools.

With movement restrictions causing widespread unemployment, hundreds of vulnerable children are facing having to leave their school as parents are plunged into debt and struggle to meet school fees.

Ecumenical charity Friends of the Holy Land has launched a sponsored Pentecost Challenge encouraging people to walk or cycle 84 miles, the distance from Bethlehem to Nazareth, to raise funds to help support education across the region and help keep pupils in their schools.

Suhail Diabes, principal at the Latin Patriarchate School in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, said: “It’s an unprecedented crisis. Parents do not have work to pay their school fees. In Bethlehem in particular the majority of our Christian families earn their money in the tourism sector, which is blocked now.

“In 24 years of working in schools, I have never faced such a situation. If the schools collapse, hundreds of Christian families will not find any income.”

Abeer Hanna, Executive Director of 13 schools run by the Roman Catholic Church in the West Bank, spoke of families having to decide which children to remove and added that 300 pupils had been forced to leave due to economic circumstance so far.

People taking part in the Pentecost Challenge can plot their distance online and will be sent video links from the locations they ‘arrive’ at along the way including insights from teachers and priests and into local history.

Among those taking part is Episcopalian priest Fr Nael Abu Rahmoun from Christ Church, Nazareth who will ‘welcome’ pilgrims at the final destination. He said: “Some families cannot pay school fees including those at our Christ School. They are hoping for some support to offer a life with dignity for their children.

“Please continue to support Friends of the Holy Land so we can offer a candle, a light of hope for our people, our students and our families.

“In Nazareth and the villages around, people are still hoping to get the good news and get new hope after the pandemic, as they wait to return to their jobs, as we try to support them with so many difficult situations in their families.”

Friends of the Holy Land also supports School of Joy in Bethlehem, a rare specialist school for children with learning difficulties, Down syndrome, autism or severe trauma. Due to the pandemic, Friends of the Holy Land is now the school’s only financial provider and extra funds are urgently needed to keep the school’s vital services running.

Fees for Christian schools are kept to a minimum and are often heavily subsidised but are necessary in the absence of support from local authorities.

Friends of the Holy Land patrons include the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham Bernard Longley and Dr Rowan Williams.

Find out more about the Pentecost Challenge

Picture caption: A PE lesson at Bethlehem’s School of Joy which is under threat as the pandemic cuts off sources of income