John Paul II Foundation / Magazine / The Piccirillo Handicraft Center

The Piccirillo Handicraft Center

Father Michael Piccirillo (1944-2008), in addition to being a Franciscan friar of the Custody of the Holy Land, was a world-renowned archaeologist. In 2018 an initiative bearing his name was launched in Bethlehem: the Piccirillo Handicraft Center. Located a stone's throw from Nativity Square, the center makes its workshops available to artisans in the area. That's right, because Bethlehem is famous for olive wood, mother-of-pearl and ceramic handicrafts. A tradition brought to the Holy Land five centuries ago by Franciscan friars, with the aim of creating employment for the Christian minority. An artistic work - numerous Bethlehemite mother-of-pearl objects can be found in the world's most prestigious museums - that has to contend with the war events that drive pilgrims away from the Holy Land.

One of today's many challenges is passing on this craftsmanship savoir-faire to new generations. This is one of the goals of the project "Piccirillo Handicraft Center: recovering prestigious craft traditions in Bethlehem.", funded by the Italian Bishops' Conference and promoted by the Archdiocese of Genoa with the technical support and supervision of the John Paul II Foundation. In addition to the installation of photovoltaic panels to lower production costs and the purchase of some state-of-the-art machinery, the focus of the project is the training of young students from the Terra Sancta College in Bethlehem. In 2023, 145 boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 15 were immersed in the world of handicrafts: they underwent 52 hours of training in olive woodworking, 28 hours in ceramic art, and 4 hours in mother-of-pearl. Under the careful and patient guidance of five trainers originally from the West Bank, they took their first steps in an industry looking for new talent.

The coordinator of the Piccirillo Center, Issa Kharoufeh, tells us, "This project is a breath of fresh air for us because times are getting darker. The war in Gaza has taken a heavy toll on us as well, such as the absence of pilgrims. In spite of this, we want to pass on our passion for this profession, which gives a living to thousands of people. Our answer to the ugliness of war lies in cultivating beauty and creativity."


Thibault Yves Joannais

Middle East Area Manager

John Paul II Foundation

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