Jesus was not born in a comfortable house, but in a cave. He was not warmed by a fire, but by the breath of the animals in the stable. For his cradle he had a manger. Salvation has very humble origins: Jesus was born in a condition of extreme hardship and sacrifice. Even today in Bethlehem, the city of the nativity that is preparing for yet another Christmas of crisis, without pilgrims, there are many children who experience the same hardship on a daily basis. Some of them do not have a home or a loving family to help them grow and flourish. Many others are still too young to understand how many sacrifices their parents are making. But all these children have our Association at their side.
Emergency houses in Bethlehem
Despite the fact that it is already winter, when I reach the office of Pro Terra Sancta – Bethlehem to meet Vincenzo Bellomo, head of social projects, and Naila, social worker, the morning air is already beginning to warm-up. “Today I decided to introduce you to two very different families,” Naila explains to me. “They both received financial help to cope with the costs of giving birth, and one of them is also part of the ‘Water emergency, housing emergency’ project. Naila is referring to a series of housing renovation and rehabilitation projects that we have financed in recent years. “We have helped more than 20 families with this project so far,” adds Vincenzo.
The idea is simple: to help elderly people with motor problems, families and young couples who cannot afford large investments to make their homes healthy, functional and beautiful. All this becomes sustainable thanks to the creation of a network within the community: the families themselves help other families by providing each other with skilled labour, carers for the elderly and cleaning and maintenance services.
A family born into uncertainty
The home of Nadia, a young 24-year-old mother, her husband and their two children, Hannah, 5 years old, and Evan, 10 months old, is one of those involved in the Emergency Housing Project. Nadia welcomes us, apologising for the mess: the workers are finishing renovating the bathroom, Nadia’s two boys are earthquakes, and she is expecting her third child and struggling to keep up with everything. Hannah runs up to me with a framed photo: it’s her dad. Since she finally started working again after a long period of unemployment, she doesn’t see him much. Nadia, on the other hand, no longer works. Before she got pregnant she was a seamstress, but with the children and a salary that barely covered transport costs, she decided to quit her job.
Unfortunately, there are many families like hers, which are growing despite living with great financial uncertainty. “There is often a lack of effective emotional, sexual, health and economic education,” Naila reflects, “and pregnancies are not planned.” The costs of Hannah and Evan’s birth were borne by Pro Terra Sancta: the couple were unable to accumulate sufficient savings. Now Naila is following this family to support Nadia’s third pregnancy and help them take out health insurance. “To break this vicious cycle of dis-education and dis-information,” she concludes before saying goodbye to mother and children, “we need to provide proper education to the whole community of Bethlehem.”
The future is blossoming like a rose
Rozalin, Rose, is only two months old and a very quiet baby. Myriam, her mother, says: “I’m 24 and my husband is 30. I studied theology and would like to be a teacher. My husband is a waiter, but he would like to open his own restaurant. When I ask her how she sees herself in five years’ time, she says: “We would like to expand the family, have more children. It depends on whether we can afford it”. This young mother studied at Terra Sancta College in Bethlehem and would like to return as a professor. With a mortgage to pay for the renovation of the family flat where they live, the newly-weds have asked for and received help to cover the costs of the birth.
A family home for abandoned children
“Pro Terra Sancta is also working on renovating the large kitchen at the Franciscan Boys’ Home in Bethlehem,” Vincenzo reminds me as we move on to our last stop of the day. Welcoming us at the facility are Abuna Sandro and Sister Marie, the “father” and “mother” of the 27 children who come here every day to escape an unbearable family situation. “This is a real family,” Father Sandro tells me. There are nine children who sleep here but up to 12 can be accommodated. Every day, 19 children are hosted for lunch and dinner. After meals, they attend after-school activities to do their homework and prepare for exams, they pray and play together.
The number of children from disadvantaged Christian families, however, is much higher. “When he arrived here, Adam had nothing: he had no clothes, no school books, he was malnourished“. Adam is 10 years old and his parents could not give him the support he needed to grow up because of economic and psychological problems. “When I visited his home for the first time, I realised that not only was it not suitable for Adam, but that there were really no minimum conditions for a family to live there”. For more than a year now, the Children’s Home has been the child’s family. “Now his behaviour has improved a lot. His grades are getting better and better. We are proud of him!” says the father with a smile.
Christmas is the right time to remind us how important it is to support children, the light of the world, the hope for the future, the Salvation. In Bethlehem, we build a house for them every day, so that no one is ever again forced to be born in a “cave”, a metaphor for a situation of great economic and family hardship. At Christmas, Bethlehem is everyone’s home!