SJBC student's interview with Salesians in Bethlehem

SJBC student's interview with Salesians in Bethlehem

Posted: Mon, 07 Dec 2020 08:05

SJBC student's interview with Salesians in Bethlehem

Sixth form students at St John Bosco College Battersea have just issued the third edition of their excellent 'Faith Matters' magazine, produced by students for an adult readership. The magazine, placed under tha patronage of Our Lady, is continuing to grow and develop. The article below, written by Alessia Morra, looks at the presence of the Salesians in Bethlehem, and includes an interview with the Rector of the Bethlehem SDB community. It is reproduced here by kind permission of the 'Faith Matters' editorial team. You can see the full magazine on the 'More information' link at the end of the page. If you would like to subscribe, please email Image: Faith Matters Magazine.

The Salesian Centre in Bethlehem, which stands at the heart of the Christian faith, is just one part of the Salesians of Don Bosco's worldwide mission to young people. They are priests and brothers who follow the teachings and practices of St John Bosco whose mission from Jesus Christ was to work with those young people who were poor and abandoned.

The Salesian mission in Bethlehem is thanks to the priest, professor and spiritual director Antonio Belloni, who is affectionately known as "Abulyatama", meaning Father of the Orphans. He started his work with orphans at Beit Jala in Bethlehem and claimed that this mission was a "call within a call".
Antonio responded to this "call" to help the orphans in 1864 by constructing a modest structure that became the first Salesian house in Bethlehem. He invited Salesian priests to join the mission and they arrived in 1891 where they worked with the poorest Palestinian Arabs.

Today, the work of the Salesians includes a wide range of activities and public services. For example, they built a church which serves as a place of worship to this day. It meets the spiritual needs of around 200 Christians and is named after the "Sacred Heart of Jesus".

In an attempt to provide jobs for the young, they have created an artistic centre and an International Nativity Museum. The artistic centre is a school of art and is the only institution in Palestine that aims to conserve traditional Palestinian handicrafts like ceramics.
Here in Bethlehem, the Salesian community run a youth centre for 200 boys and girls, as well as a school for 150 students. They also run a thriving scout programme based on the values promoted by Don Bosco. It was launched in 1922 and has nearly 120 scout
members that range from the ages of 6 to 45 years old.

They built a bakery as soon as the Salesian community was set up and through it they provide free food for around 150 families each day. Apart from producing food for orphans and destitute families, the bakery also serves as a place for teaching young Palestinians how to bake and the profits are used to support a charity that helps the poorest of the poor.

The Salesian community in Bethlehem has a genuinely international feel to it, with confreres from around the globe such as Egypt, Italy, India, Lebanon and Vietnam. In total, there are two Salesian communities located in Palestine apart from Bethlehem – they are based in Cremisan and Beit Jala.

The rector of the Salesian community in Bethlehem very kindly agreed to give us an interview for Faith Matters.

Are there any more programs or services that the Salesians of Don Bosco want to set up in the future?

Yes, certainly. For the school, we would like to set up a new course in tailoring for male and female students.For the youth centre, we would like to renovate our basketball and volleyball facilities. For our scouts, new instruments for the band would be very useful. For the bakery, well, we would like to improve our service to the poor families of Bethlehem.

Out of all the valuable pieces of the International Nativity Museum which is the most popular one and what is the story behind it?

We have more than 200 cribs in the International Nativity Museum. The crib of Matera is the most popular because it represents part of the old town of Matera, with its caves and very simple, poor houses. It was brought from Italy and assembled here, piece by piece, and then illuminated with beaming spotlights. It was difficult to find a place for it because it is huge but inside the old part of the Salesian house we found a beautiful place for it.

What is the Salesians' house proudest achievement?

I think the work that we have been doing to support communities since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic would probably top the list. However, there are some other notable moments in our history that we are particularly proud of. These include the First Intifada (1987-1992), Second Intifada (2000-2003) and during the two Gulf Wars (1990 and 2003), when we provided help to countless poor families through food produced in our bakery.

What has been the hardest part of your mission to young people in Bethlehem?

The hardest part was during the First Intifada (1987-1992). In 1988 we were celebrating one hundred years of Don Bosco's death and our school and youth centre were shut down by the army for more than 15 months. It was difficult to celebrate Don Bosco without our activities in the school and in the oratory.

How are donations distributed?

Normally we have a committee that decides how the money we receive is to be spent. We receive requests from poor families or we know the plight of other families. We visit them and we try to understand their needs. The committee decides shortly after the home visit. A member of the youth centre and the scouts help us to distribute what we think is necessary for each family.

How has your faith in God supported you in your work?

Firstly, I think it is important to know where we live. We are in Bethlehem. I have been living in the Holy Land for many years. So everything here speaks of Jesus, of God. You look up and you see the Basilica of the Nativity. Here Jesus became a man like me, He became a child as all the children I meet on the roads of Bethlehem. Faith is everywhere if you understand where you live. For me this is the main point that helps me to strengthen my faith.

Secondly, my vocation to poor children, poor youngsters and poor people. In their faces I see Jesus. If they smile or if they cry, it is Jesus smiling and crying in front of me. So my faith becomes stronger and stronger, because I remember what He said in these villages and on these roads.

What miracles, in terms of your work, have you seen in Bethlehem?

If you have faith, miracles are possible. There are a number of miracles that I cannot forget. They are the past-students of the school or of the oratory and how many of them, Christians and Muslims alike, who turned their life around or found a better social position through the help of the Salesians from this house.

Other miracles are linked to the benefactors. This house lives through the help of benefactors. A contribution received during lockdown from benefactors in the UK through the Salesians there was an answer to prayer.

The local people of Bethlehem are dependent upon tourism and pilgrimages. Since March all the hotels, souvenir shops, factories and restaurants have been closed. Many of the employees are young people.

What can we do in this situation?

Through the intensive courses we offer it is possible to give new skills to many of them so that they can start a new job and work towards a better life. This, in itself, is the miracle of humanity working as the Hand of God in our world.

Alessia Morra, Faith Matters Magazine: Issue 3, SJBC

If you would like to make a donation to support the work of the Salesians in Bethlehem, please email Fr Andrew Ebrahim on

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