By Joseph Cornelius Donnelly
Caritas Jerusalem invited some sixty young adult leaders to gather in Beit Jala at the Latin Patriarchal Seminary for a meeting to reflect on the call to every Christian to walk with our neighbor, to support those in need, to speak for the voiceless and to pursue truth, justice, dignity for all peoples. Attendees brought with them some energy, some curiosity, even, it seemed, some hope.
Following the Gaza crisis which had preoccupied the headlines and communities throughout the Holy Land since the Christmas season, young adult volunteers were ready to consider the purpose and challenges of implementing Catholic Social Teaching – the Gospel call to love one another, in good times and bad.
Caritas Jerusalem’s Secretary General Claudette Habesch had invited me to meet with the local youth leaders who coordinate with some 350 volunteers all around the Holy Land.
In the last month they had worked with the Caritas Emergency Team to pack supplies for families in need in Gaza. These young adults from Jerusalem and the West Bank have no physical access to Gaza. However, they seek the most basic human access to their sisters and brothers in another part of their homeland. They have a deep interest to be meaningfully active in the greater life of the Palestinian community. However, they too, while reasonably safe, suffer the hurts and losses from the Israeli Palestinian conflict. They seek ways to understand, to reach out, to sustain hopes. Indeed, to dare look beyond these dark times.
I work as Caritas Internationalis’ Delegate to the United Nations and I came on mission to Jerusalem in January as the Confederation’s special representative to the Holy Land in light of the enormous humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Naturally, I came to support Caritas Jerusalem with its implementation of the global confederation’s US$2 million Emergency Appeal as a Catholic response in the moment of exceptional need. However, I also came to lift up hopes and provide practical communications and advocacy opportunities strongly supported by Caritas members around the world.
Under the challenging theme and wisdom offered by Pope Paul VI forty years ago: <> Caritas plays a key role at UN headquarters to echo what it hears from its member organizations, its staff, experts and volunteers. These voices make a difference. But they always need to be respected and amplified through education, partnerships, accountability in the public forum.
Caritas Jerusalem”s lively and sincere volunteers want to be educated, want to guide – and are absolutely ready to develop their voices for peace with justice and equal rights for all. It is not easy, but it is essential. Saturday’s gathering was a modest attempt to shine light on the darkness of the day, working creatively and insistently, to keep the gates of hope open.
From Khaled to Michael, from Mary to Fairuz, over and over there was readiness to listen, to accept that “Peace is Possible” in the Holy Land. There was also questioning: How much of a difference can we really make?
What can one person or one small country do in the face of the UN Security Council – in light of “powerful countries with ultimate veto powers”? As the questions multiplied, I was able to illustrate examples where Caritas has been the leaven needed to precisely facilitate the voice of the seemingly voiceless – in Colombia, in Democratic Republic of Congo, in Sri Lanka, in Northern Uganda, Haiti and Zimbabwe. The Caritas commitment to accompany the poorest of the poor demands that each Caritas, whether Jerusalem or Kinshasa, find the most authentic ways to build up what is lacking, to break down walls of separation – and especially to build human bridges to reconciliation, confidence, transparency and compassion without prejudice.
What was unmistakably clear was that the Caritas coordination efforts have begun developing skilled, interested, caring leaders who have their own deep sense of belonging to their community, to their country and to their neighbors. They understand more and more clearly that every voice counts. They see that one person can make a difference.
They recognize themselves as individuals and as a community with growing capacities to be true instruments of peace. They accept that charity – or caritas – begins at home and grows amidst grassroots efforts. Truly, none too poor to give something; none too rich too receive something precious.
Part of the gathering included meeting spiritual needs as witnessed by a Mass. After a traditional Palestinian lunch, some with rare opportunities to be in Bethlehem went to Manger Square to pray at the Church of the Nativity. In the light of day such faith and determination truly shines across borders. It multiplies into hopefulness with practical applications.
Thus, a sunny Saturday in the Holy Land concluded with a list of next steps. Networking and public witness events are needed. A warm comradery showed that this generation is not alone, not isolated, not meant to be hidden from the gaze of the world. Knowing they can, will and already make a difference.
This community of leaders welcomes the Caritas Confederation’s interest as they implement and own Catholic Social Teaching through a necessarily local translation. Putting deliberate and charity into concrete action now before tomorrow. You’re welcome to join their journey and accompany them on their daily pilgrimage.