The Beacons of Hope package just arrived from Ain Arik, Palestine, on its way to San Antonio, Texas. The package was prepared by the parish of the Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation in the Holy Land for the parish of Our Lady of the Atonement Church in America. With the difficulties occurring in and around Ramallah, it is a small miracle that anything was able to get out. At Christmas, every one of the 210 children in the Texas parish school sent letters from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. All children from the kindergarten class on up pasted a picture of themselves on their letters. They had sponsored a child from each class in Ain Arik, and were very enthusiastic about having communications.

The Beacons of Hope package just arrived from Ain Arik, Palestine, on its way to San Antonio, Texas.  The package was prepared by the parish of the Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation in the Holy Land for the parish of Our Lady of the Atonement Church in America. With the difficulties occurring in and around Ramallah, it is a small miracle that anything was able to get out.  At Christmas, every one of the 210 children in the Texas parish school sent letters from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade.  All children from the kindergarten class on up pasted a picture of themselves on their letters.  They had sponsored a child from each class in Ain Arik, and were very enthusiastic about having communications. 

January passed with no response.  Outsiders had attacked an Israeli check point at Ain Arik, and then slipped away.  Some soldiers were killed.  The garrison commenced taking their fury out on the villagers.  All communications in and out of the village were stopped.

February saw Fr. Christopher Phillips of San Antonio query: “Is there any word yet as to whether or not our children’s letters have reached Ain Arik? I realize it is difficult to know, but the children ask me, and I wondered if there might be anything I can say to them about the status of things.  We are putting together a display at the school with the pictures we have received from Ain Arik. Several of them have been enlarged, and we have them on the wall outside of the library, where everyone sees them on a daily basis.”

But no response was able to come out from the West Bank.

March passed into April, and no response.  My encouragements to Fr. Christopher included: “Concerning Ain Arik: I have not been able to rely on my contact, George Ghattas, since he lives in Bethlehem where a siege is ongoing, and he has been confined to his home along with his wife and children.  George is a manager with the Latin Patriarchate who handles economic development as well as the Beacons of Hope.  Once the Israeli back off their military action and constriction of the population is lifted, George will be able to get back to Ain Arik to assess the situation and to bring out the letters from Fr. Cinti and the school children.”

May arrived with the horrifying news reported by Maria Khoury in her article “Going to School with Gunfire” about the situation in Ain Arik.  “Most school children will be crossing dangerous checkpoints and putting their life at risk just to go to school every day.  In the small village of Ain Arik, in the outskirts of Ramallah where our Ain Arik Latin Patriarchate School educates 160 children from preschool to grade six, it was a terrifying start for the school day.  Some children were so frightened they returned home.  The daily terror living under occupation does not stop…  A group of soldiers that have established a new checkpoint on top of the mountain at the north end of the village, opened fire on unarmed civilians as they were climbing down the mountain to make it to work and school…  People today were walking in the mud because it had just rained, some falling and some hurting themselves.  It was enough torture and difficulty to try to make it to school by the mountainside.  These children did not need the soldiers to open fire without any reason and terrify them.  The soldiers were shooting indiscriminately at the people… As Mervat [Shomali, the principle at Ain Arik] who is also a mother of two girls pleaded before she hung up the phone:  ‘God help us.'”

In June, the voices of the children, the principle and the parish priest from Ain Arik were heard and enclosed in the Beacons of Hope package that had finally made its way out.  The voices are those of hope in God and thanks to His Holy Spirit for the prayers from Texas.  Fr. Giovanni Mario Cinti of Ain Arik enclosed a gift to Fr. Christopher Phillips of San Antonio in the form of a commemorative book on the Pope’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Mirvat Shomaly, the principle in Ain Arik sent a letter to the American principle, Melba Hutsell with the following excerpts: “I would like to apologize for not writing to you as soon as we received your letters… The Israeli soldiers occupied Ramallah so we couldn’t come to school or even move from one place to another…  Thank you for the letters, drawings and pictures… They are wonderful.  I am so happy to see that your children care about the Palestinian children of Ain Arik and want to be their friends… Our children suffer every day in addition to shooting, clashes, shelling… We hope that we will have peace… We are so grateful because you and your children pray for us… I hope that our relation[ship] will continue so we can be one family.”

The children of Ain Arik responsed in kind to the children of San Antonio.  All the children sent pictures along with letters and drawings.  The kindergarten children were quoted by school helpers.  “I am learning the Arabic alphabet.  The letter that we have today is ‘af’… Today is sunny and warm… I like to draw pictures of nature like flowers and trees… I like to play with my doll… I like helping my father in our garden… My homeland is under occupation.  I pray every day that it will gain its freedom… I am four years old… I am going to America… I like to sing.  My favorite song is Jingle Bells… I live with my family in Ain Arik… My older sister, Majd, is married and she has a baby girl, and I love her so much.”  The drawings show happy girls in dresses, blue skies with the sun, rainbows, flowers, hearts, and families of stick people.

The first grade of Ain Arik used a form letter with blanks for the children to write in their name, age, favorite color and subjects.  They add in “I love you!” and “Peace”.  Their drawings show peace doves, hearts, flowers, Palestinian flags, Arabic writings, and one tree. 

The second grade of Ain Arik also used a form letter with the additional comment: “Every day the Israeli soldiers shoot at our houses and injure some people.  This makes me very afraid.  I hope I can live peacefully in my country.”  Their drawings show hearts, flowers, girls in dresses, boys playing ball, homes, and one music stanza. 

The third grade is a class of seven boys.  They like to play ball, ride bikes, and hike the mountains.  Their form letter adds: “I want to live freely in my country.”  They pen in “I love you!”  They draw Palestinian flags along with hearts.

The Latin Patriarchate school teaches English in all the classes.  By fourth grade, they can write freely in English.  The fourth and fifth graders write: “I have a lot of friends.  We play together… My hobby is running… In my free time I water the plants… I like to help others… I want to live freely in my country… It is very hot in my village… Salam means peace… These days are hard for us… We want peace as all the other kids.”  They draw flowers, hillsides, olive trees, peace doves, Palestinian flags and hearts, and wish us peace and love.

The injustice witnessed by the sixth graders have made them want to become doctors and nurses.  They draw peace doves, crosses, and flowers.  One young girl, Muna, drew a tank firing on a church. A young boy, Hanna, drew a map of Palestine with an arrow stuck in it, blood flowing down forming a large pool.  Below the pool of blood, stood a tank being approached by a boy holding a cross.   They write: “My village is very small and old… Salam, peace…  I want you to come and visit… This life is difficult; my father doesn’t have work… I want to be a doctor to help babies and children when they are injured by the gunshots… The war in Palestine is frightening.  Many people have died from Israeli soldiers.  They killed children, babies and a young man.  They took the young man and put him into prison.  I ask my God to give us peace.”