One of the main missions of the Franciscan friars is education. With 15 schools and almost 12,000 students throughout the Holy Land, the Franciscans are building a culture of hospitality.
Fifteen schools in three different continents and almost 12,000 students.
The numbers that document the commitment of the Custody of the Holy Land to education are impressive. In 1598, the Order of Friars Minor who had been in the Holy Land for a little over three centuries, decided to found, in Bethlehem, the first school of the Middle East.
Fr. Ibrahim Faltas, director of the Schools of the Custody of the Holy Land, says, “When the Franciscans came here, they came to guard the holy places, but they realized that the live stones need the care and protection of the Franciscans, therefore their priority was to build a school, a sports center and a parish next to a shrine, which is the memory stone.”
Now, wherever there is a sanctuary guarded by the Franciscans, you can also find a school. The last school was built in Cana, in addition to those founded in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem and in Jericho, in Nazareth, Haifa, Acre, Jaffa and Ramleh, Israel and Palestine. The Franciscans also created schools in Jordan, as well as in Cyprus and in Argentina.
Fr. Ramzi Sidawi, bursar of the Custody of the Holy Land, says “This is a field that takes a lot of our resources because our schools, especially in Palestine, do not receive any type of grants except for the constant support of the Custody of the Holy Land through the Good Friday collection.”
The generosity of the faithful from the entire world, therefore, gives an essential contribution to the educational mission of the Franciscans, which aims to accommodate students without distinction of nationality, caste and especially religious affiliation. The school in Ramleh, a town with a Jewish majority, 40 kilometers north of Jerusalem, is a brilliant example of this concept.
While Fr. Abel-Masih Fahim, director of Terra Santa School in Ramleh says,
“The school welcomes all students without discrimination and welcomes Muslims and Christians. Approximately 58 per cent of the students are Christians, the rest are Muslims. All of them live together, work together and get along well. At school, we commemorate and celebrate both Christian and Muslim celebrations.”
The school was built in 1728 near the monastery of St. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and welcomes nearly 400 students.