Felician Congregational Office for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation
July 1st, Thursday
We left the generalate at 4.00 am after receiving the Blessed Sacrament. On the way to the airport we were accompanied by Sr. Barbara Ann, Sr. M. Cabrini, Sr. M. Janet, Sr. M. Virginia and Sr. M. Marta. We left the Eternal City for Frankfurt and next we boarded the plane to Tel Aviv. At the airport we were met by Fr. Slawomir Abramowski, the parish priest of the Catholic Parish of Eliat. After 4-hour travel by desert we arrived to the place of our destination – Eliat. After dinner we had a meeting with Fr. Slawomir and the group of the volunteers from Poland who arrived few days before us to help in the English Summer School for the Sudanese Refugees – Agnieszka, Natalia, Ewa and Max. We met also the polish couple – Justyna and Jarek – who were sent for this mission by the Neocatechumenat Movement.
July 2nd, Friday
The first full day of teaching. We have been assigned to the youngest group of students with whom we started the ABC of English.Late in the afternoon we went with Fr. Slawomir and Jarek to Arad, a Jewish orthodox city located 230 km from Eilat. We went there for the Eucharist for the Sudanese people and also for organizing the English Summer School. In Arad there is a problem to rent the place for the classes for 53 students who are willing to learn English.
July 3rd, Saturday
Today in the Parish was the First Holy Communion and the Confirmation for the Sudanese youth. Before the celebration the team working in the English Summer School, as well as Justyna and Jarek, we were invited to have lunch with the auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, His Lordship Bishop .
The Eucharist was a multicultural and beautiful celebration in which participated the Sudanese, Mexicans, Philippines, Polish and Eritrean people. The songs were sung and prayers said in different languages.
We were asked by Father Slawek to be the witnesses of the Sacrament of Confirmation for two Sudanese girls.
Very early in the morning we left for Tel Aviv to participate in the presidential election held in Poland. On the way back we passed through Jerusalem and visited the Church of St. Ann – the birth place of Blessed Virgin Mary, the Ecce Home Church. We saw also the Via Dolorosa and prayed on the place of Crucifixion and in the Tomb of Jesus.
July 6th, Tuesday
We were sent by Father Slawomir to teach English the Sudanese children in Kibbutz. Kibbutz is the Hebrew word meaning unity. Its inhabitants are not only Sudanese refugees but also some Jewish people. The children have been divided into three groups: young children from 6 to 9 years old who do not know English at all, the second group – 10 – 13 years old children who know some English but do not know how to read and write. The third group – the youth (14 to 18 years old) who are more fluent in English and able to write and read – is taken by Mark, the seminarian from Poland.
July 7th, Wednsday
This morning Father Slawek took two of our volunteers – Max and Ewa – to Arad. Mark and Ewa are supposed to teach English the group of 53 Sudanese children living in Arad. Father Slawek wants us to take turn in ministering in Arad. We are going to be sent there two by two for duration of one week.
The challenge of being in Arad is that there is no Catholic parish there (Arad is the station of the Eilat Parish) and the Eucharist is celebrated there only once per week, on Fridays.
July 9th, Friday
During our English classes in Kibbutz we were visited by one of the mothers. It seems that she wanted to find out how the things are going on for the children and the teachers. Her smile was a sign of approval for what we try to do and for the way we relate with the students. She took one of us aside and with her little English she expressed, on behalf of all the gratitude for our presence here. She said that by helping the children we also help the mothers.
July 10th, Saturday
Saturday is a Sabbath Day in Israel so we can’t work. We took advantage of this and went to the seashore to admire the corals of the Red Sea.
July 11th, Sunday
In the evening we participated in the Eucharistic celebration held in Kibbutz. Among the attendants were only 5 women, one man and some of our children. We had a chance to speak with the women. They are very friendly. We see the need not only of teaching English in Kibbutz but, most of all, of teaching the catechism and evangelizing. We made first arrangements to have meetings with the adults as well.
July 12, Monday
Our students are making progress with their English. They remember our names but call us “Mr. Eliana” or “Mr. Agnes”. We hope that by the end of our English Summer School they will remember that we are sisters and not Mr.
The small children are very aggressive and they fight constantly between themselves. We do not know Hebrew to communicate with them so it is sometimes a real challenge to have control over them, especially during the breaks.
Today while one of us was removing the child’s shoe from the roof of the Church in which we have our lessons, Mark was removing one of our student from the barbed wire.
In the evening we went again to Kibbutz but this time for the Eucharist. The community gathered for prayer was much bigger than yesterday since the Sudanese people came to pray for one of the prominent Sudanese who passed away some weeks ago. In the entrance song sang in Arabic one could sense the sadness of those people living far away from their homeland, from the people they love and care for. We did not understand the words of the song but, maybe for the first time, we could really sense the tragedy of those people living in exile.
July 13th, Tuesday
For the afternoon Mass held in the parish we were joined by Sarit. Sarit is a Jewish lady who is preparing herself for Baptism. After the Homily she publicly proclaimed her desire to be baptized and to belong to Jesus. She received the book of the Gospel in Hebrew. Later on Father shared with us her journey to Christ. She came from the family engaged in mafia activities. Her mother rejected her when she was just 16 years old. She was tormented by the evil spirits. Once she heard a voice and saw a cross. The voice said to her to make the sign of the Cross and that God would guide her. She went to the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem and there she met a catholic priest who prayed over her and, knowing that she is from Eilat, asked her to contact our parish priest.
In the evening we went to Kibbutz for the meeting with the parents. There were only 9 mothers and one father who attended this meeting. We were happy to have a contact with the parents of our students.
July 16th, Friday
Late in the afternoon we went with Father Slawek to Arad where we participated in the Sunday Eucharist celebrated with the small Sudanese community. After the Eucharist we went for the night to Angelina, a single mother of two children, since tomorrow morning we are supposed to join the rest of our English Summer School’s team in Haifa for the two-day pilgrimage to Galilee.
PILGRIMAGE TO GALIEE, JULY 17-18
Angelina prepared for us breakfast. While waiting for Fr. Slawek we listen to Angelina’s story. She left Sudan 10 years ago. On the way to Israel she spent some time in Egypt where she and other refugees experienced a lot of mistreatment. It is not seldom that Sudanese people are beaten and even killed in Egypt. The immediate family of Angelina, her brothers and sisters, all live outside Sudan, in different parts of the world. Angelina cleans in one of the hotels on the beach of the Dead Sea. Her children attend the Hebrew school where they experience racism and unjust treatment by the children as well as by the teachers. Her oldest son often cries and refuses to go to school. Angelina admitted that she would like to go back to Sudan as soon as she could since she misses her people, her country with its traditions and culture. What stroke us the most in Angelina was her serenity, gentleness, and, at the same time, self-dignity. She radiates so much peace and warmness.
From Arad we went straight to the Mount of Tabor, the place of Transfiguration. In the Basilica of Transfiguration we listened once more to the biblical account of the event which took place there. From Mount Tabor we went to Tabgha at the shore of the Lake of Galilee, place where Jesus fed thousand of hungry people who listened to his teaching.
We understood once more that Jesus needs our “five loaves and two fishes”, the little we have, offered him generously and with faith to do his work, to make impossible possible.
The next step in our pilgrimage in the footsteps of Jesus was the place where Jesus, after his resurrection, reaffirmed the primacy of Peter asking him to feed his sheep. In this holy place where Peter was asked three times about loving Jesus more than others, we renewed our commitment to the Risen Christ. We did not dare to say that we love him more than others do, but we asked for the grace to do this.
In Capharnaum we saw the remains of the house of St. Peter and the so-called “Synagogue of Jesus” where he read the Holy Scrolls and interpreted them to his fellow Jews. In the shoreline of the Lake of Galilee we listened to the echo of Jesus’ words calling his disciples to leave everything behind in order to follow him. Looking at the waves on the lake and feeling on our faces the strong wind we found comfort in the conviction that Jesus is the one who calms all the storms and torments in our life.
The Mount of the Beatitudes and its magnificent view on the Lake and the valley is beyond description. It seems that it was really a perfect place to introduce his listeners to the bliss of the life lived in poverty of spirit, with clean and merciful heart and eyes, and to open them to the understanding of the meaning of tears shared for justice sake and hunger for peace and harmony of God’s reign as well as the worth of remaining faithful to Jesus even at the price of persecution and rejection.
“Domus”, center of the Neocatechumencial Movement and the house of study mostly for the seminarians, impressed us by its beauty and very modern facilities. It was obvious that the focal point here is the Word of God and everything is organized in this way to help one meets Jesus in His Word.
At the end of our first day of pilgrimage in Galilee we joined the small Christian community in Haifa for the Holy Eucharist. It was a new experience for us to meet and pray with the Jewish Catholics. The liturgy said in Hebrew was very beautiful and prayerful, especially singing touched us deeply. Among those who attended the Eucharist was Mrs. Stella who took two of us for the night to her home. It was a real blessing to spend some time with her and to come to know her. Stella was born in a Jewish family in Poland in 1925. When she was 16 years old she asked for baptism and later joined the Carmel community. In 1963 she was sent to Haifa in Israel to start the new Carmel community here. After living almost 20 years as a Carmelite nun, she was asked to leave the community. She never returned to Poland but found her new homeland in Israel. She is full of energy, joy, sense of humor and, it seems, unlimited strength. She engaged herself in the public service and even now, at the age of 85, remains at the service of all those who need her help. Her two-floor house is opened to all who search for accommodation and Stella does not accept any payment for the time spent in her home. If there is a need, she gives her own bed to the visitors and sleeps on the balcony (it was like that when she welcomed us for the night; since she had already three people in her house she gave us her bed and slept on the balcony). The principle she lives by is to give herself totally at the service of others. She believes that what people really need is love and it is love which can open and change human hearts. Many times she has experienced the truth of this principle. Some years ago her house was burn out completely. At that moment she had had only 100 shekels in her purse. Her neighbors collectively rebuild and refurnished her house making it even more comfortable that it used t be before the fire had started. Stella does not worry about money believing that the true Christianity expresses itself in poverty. No need to say how much we were challenged by her story and by her life.
The following day we were picked up form the Stella’s house by Sergio, a guide for the Holy Land and a very close friend of Fr. Slawek. Sergio came to Israel 10 years ago from Ukraine. He is also a Catholic Jew. His way to Christ has also touched us deeply. Sergio grew up in a family observing some Jewish traditions but not really believing in God. When he was 11 years old he became seriously ill. While being in the hospital he overheard the conversation between his mother and a doctor. The doctor informed his mother that in his condition the only solution was to undergo surgery. His mother did not give permission for the surgery. For the first time in his life Sergio realized that he was going to die and he became very scared of death. It was the time when he started to search for God who could rescue him from death. After leaving the hospital his mother took him for some sightseeing of the country. While visiting one of the cities of Ukraine Sergio did not follow the group of tourists to which they belonged and, instead, entered the Orthodox Church. In the church there was only one person, a priest who approached him and asked who he was. Sergio admitted that he was a Jew. In a reply he heard the words: “it is good; Jesus was also a Jew”. After that the priest asked him if he did not want to be taught a prayer in Hebrew which Jesus taught his disciples. In this way Sergio was introduced to the prayer “Our Father”. He used to pray it every day. One day after coming back from school he received the sad and rather devastating for him news about the death of his nanny – a woman who for many years took care of him and whom he loved so much. Since he insisted on seeing her he was allowed to enter the room in which her corps was held. He was surprised to see her face smiling. He, who was so scared of death, saw a dead person smiling. Later on he came to know that the doctor had insisted on saving her life but she was supposed to say: “let me go to my Father”. It was a decisive moment in the life of Sergio. He came to know that there is the Father to whom he was already praying who takes away the fear of death. Sergio started the preparation for receiving baptism in the Catholic Church. He did it in the secret since he was afraid of the reactions of his family. Only after the baptism he came to know that approximately at the same time his sister was also baptized and also did it in the secret. The first one to know about his baptism was his grand-mother who received this news rather calmly but when the grand-father came to know about this, Sergio was cast out from the house. He spent some weeks in the rectory with the priests but finally his parents came to take him back home. Gradually his whole family accepted Christianity and the last one to receive baptism was his grand-father. He was baptized two weeks before his death.
The first place we visited on Sunday was Cana in Galilee where Jesus made his first miracle at the request of his mother. We prayed there that in our life we could preserve “the good wine” until the end.
From Cana we went to Nazareth to the Basilica of Annunciation where we asked for the grace to recognize the hour of God’s visitation and to have enough faith to say our “fiat” to whatever God wants to do with us. In Nazareth we visited also the Church of St. Joseph and the Orthodox Church of Annunciation. In this Orthodox Church there is the well where people, and so also Mary, came to fetch water from. The Orthodox Christians believe that at this well the Annunciation took place.
Before we left Nazareth for the Jordan River we visited the Polish Sisters of the Saint Family of Nazareth who welcomed us with very delicious cake and refreshing drinks.
At the bank of the Jordan River we renewed our baptismal promises. The last place we visited during this two-day pilgrimage was Caesarea Philippi where Peter proclaimed faith in the divinity of Christ and received the power of the keys.
We came back to Eilat very late, rather tired but happy and, most of all, renewed spiritually.
July 19th, Monday
In the group of the youngest children we had today a 2-year old boy, Barak, who was brought to the classroom by the children. We came to know that this morning his mother went to the maternity ward to give birth to her new child and since she could not take Barak with himself she left him with the group of the children. We must admit that we were impressed by the behavior of Barrack during the whole time of class as well as by the care and love shown him by the children, especially girls. In the African society the sense of community and belonging to community is a very strong one. Somehow they live in a big family and so if something happens, like for example today’s situation, there is no fear to live the child alone since he or she would be taken proper care of by the rest of the community.
We have discovered new facts about the people whom we serve. During the meeting with the parents we gave them the sheets of paper to be filled in. We wanted to have some basic information about our students. The forms were prepared by Fr. Slawek and the questions were in English. So far we have gotten few answers but on the basic of these few filled-in forms, we came to know that many parents do not understand English (maybe this is the reason why we can’t get the forms back), many are illiterate, and some they do not know what kind of Christian denominations they belong to. The need for evangelization is so evident.
Last Friday Fr. Slawek informed us that on Monday we would move to the room he rented for us in Kibuttz. We were really happy with this arrangement since we want to be close to the people and the children, to share their life and to come to know them better. Even children were very happy when we announced to them that soon we would live in Kibbutz. Only this morning we got a chance to see the room rented for us. The room was not prepared for moving in so late in the afternoon we went to scrub, clean, disinfect and do all the necessary work before we could move here. We were happy that some staff members of our English Summer School Program came to assist us in this work.
July 20th, Tuesday
Since Fr. Slawek insisted on us to leave the parish for Kibbutz, we called off the classes with our students and dedicated time for buying the necessary things and preparing the room for our use. Peter, a seminarian from Poland, helped us a lot in getting the room ready for the night. He repaired all the wholes so that the cockroaches and other unwelcome creatures could not enter our room.
July 21, Wednesday
There are many blessings connected to our stay in Kibbutz. One of them is that we can spend more time with the children and their parents. Slowly they realize that we no longer come here only for the classes but that we “have pitched our tent” among them. One of the first fruit of our stay here is that today we got a new student, Venus who yesterday had played with us on the play ground and today came to be taught by us.
July 23rd, Friday
In the evening we met with the group of 27 adults (4 women and 23 men) who would like to learn English. We gave them the orientation test to find out on which level they are. Most of them can speak and understand English, at least little, but they are not able to read and write. Majority were not in a position to do the test. Some of them tried to copy from the blackboard the questions we wrote down there. Even copying was a challenge since the Arabic langue they speak has different alphabet than the one use in English language.
July 24th, Saturday
We took advantage of the Sabbath day and dedicated it for a day of recollection. It was good to spend this day with the Lord and to listen to his words. In the evening we attended the Holy Mass with the group of women from the Philippines who work in Eilat.
July 27, Tuesday
This evening we were visited by a group of six Sudanese women, our neighbors and our students. They wanted to know how we live and if our room is comfortable. We were having a small women to women talk with them. They were very friendly and very happy that we live among them. We finished this first informal meeting with a prayer.