Students and teachers at Terra Sancta College in Bethlehem just celebrated the completion of another school year, renewing hope for Christians in the Holy Land through the study of art and music, according to Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land. The celebration included student concerts and displays of paintings, sculpture and clothing design.
The college was established by the Franciscans in the 1500s as an extension of churches in the region and today offers an alternative to traditional education. Training in the arts and music provides hope to marginalized Christians in the area, particularly in Bethlehem where unemployment among Christians exceeds 65 percent, and those who do have jobs work for subsistence-level wages. Travel for Christians in Bethlehem and other parts of Israel is so highly restricted that people often cannot get to their jobs, to school or to medical facilities.
The Custos and the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL) provide programs that offer education, housing and employment opportunities for Christians.
“The Palestinian Christians do not want to leave their homes,” according to Fr. Peter Vasko, OFM, President of the Foundation. “Their families have lived here for centuries, and with an education, they can now find good jobs and remain in the Holy Land.”
Thirty-five years ago Christians made up 80 percent of the population of Bethlehem. Today that number has dwindled to less than two percent, according to Fr. Vasko. “Terra Sancta College and programs offered by the Foundation are changing that, one student at a time,” he said.