On Sunday, July 10, the first center exclusively for senior citizens will be opened in the town of Birzeit. The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be led by H.B. Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The center has been named in honor of Fr. Anton Buzo, the town

On Sunday, July 10, the first center exclusively for senior citizens will be opened in the town of Birzeit. The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be led by H.B. Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The center has been named in honor of Fr. Anton Buzo, the town’s Catholic parish priest from 1943 to 1994.  Through the incredible journey of political and economic turmoil that marked this half century, Fr. Buzo led the townspeople spiritually, and also in the establishing of the parish school, the building of the large, modern church, and the assistance of those in need.  He was a father figure to the town’s people, and he now stands as a model of courage and faith in such turbulent times as the people of Birzeit continue to endure.

Today, the small town stands as a testament to the men and women who were the forefathers of today’s higher education, culture and faith. Thanks to the mark left by people like Fr. Buzo and Nabiha Nasir, the founder of what became Birzeit University, peace and education have been sustained despite serious obstacles and violence.  Today, Birzeit University is one of the prime institutions of higher education in the Arab world, despite its frequent closures and arrests.  The peace and the educational accomplishments of the town would have been impossible without the tremendous sacrifices of the generations before.

Life has changed in Birzeit.  The once vibrant communal atmosphere has since become deserted and heartbreaking, as the majority of adults leave for opportunities in the West, and once tightly-knit families are broken for hopes of a better life elsewhere.  The elderly are often alone, as when one elderly woman recently was only found dead after three days in her home.

The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) is an advocate on behalf of the indigenous Christian community of the Holy Land. Many of HCEF’s programs are geared toward the next generation, but HCEF has expanded the scope of its outreach to an equally vital population in the Holy Land- the elderly.  They have remained courageously and faithfully to witness their faith and to resist oppression in the Holy Land, but today they are some of the most vulnerable citizens to the violence and unrest in the region.

The senior citizens of Birzeit have contributed immensely to the Palestinian and Christian community, and continue to desire to do so. As a tribute to their courage and resilience throughout their turbulent history, HCEF has created a place where they will be able to leave their homes, and enjoy social and cultural activities with one another, including health awareness, sports and recreational activities.  There are a total of 125 eligible elders in Birzeit. This Center is a tribute to them, to honor them and give them something that they have been longing for.  Says Rateb Rabie, president of HCEF, “This is a dream come true for Birzeitis who, for so long have hoped that they could one day repay their elders for their courage and resistance. Without them, Birzeit truly would be a deserted town, empty of any hope and happiness.”

In addition to the wellbeing of the senior citizens in and around the town of Birzeit, the restoring of the building has created local employment opportunities, benefiting twenty-one families who, like 60% of the workforce, have little other hope of sustainable employment. As the center opens, it will also provide jobs through the running of programs and activities. The Center will be also benefit the entire town of Birzeit through its service opportunities for local groups, like the Birzeit Women’s Society and Mar Mansour (St. Vincent de Paul Society), who will be giving their service to the Center. Above all, the Center will begin to bring back the cohesive community that once inhabited in Birzeit.

The Birzeit Senior Citizens’ Daycare Center has been a work in progress for three years, and thanks to the help of HCEF partners, it is ready to be opened as a vibrant place of welcome and enjoyment.  Thanks to the generosity of the National Presbyterian Church, who has a Parish Partnership with Birzeit, the Pontifical Mission, Caritas and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, this project testifies to the ability of organizations and churches to work together for the common good.

As the center prepares to open in July, funds are lacking for it to remain a sustainable place of activities and programs for the elders.  The upgrading of the community hall is completed and HCEF has the first six months operating costs covered, but the program needs the help of individuals and organizations to be a part of this project. 

For more information about Birzeit, the Church and the Center for Elders or to make a contribution, please visit http://www.hcef.org/index.cfm/ID/292.cfm.

For more information about HCEF please visit www.hcef.org.