John Paul II Foundation / Magazine / Bethlehem the city of children in wartime

Bethlehem the city of children in wartime

Bethlehem is the city where baby Jesus was born, it is the city of children, even for us, who when we enter to visit the Basilica of the Nativity feel the excitement, which we felt as children when Christmas was approaching. Today we struggle to breathe the air of Christmas, which all year round accompanies life in Bethlehem.

Five months after the beginning of the atrocious and inhumane conflict between Israel and Hamas, which has seen the death and injury of thousands and thousands of children, our children are also paying the consequences of this war.

They have been deprived, from the rhythm of everyday life. They are locked together with their families inside the city with the inability to get out of the city and fear has settled in their hearts, fear when they heard the missiles passing over the city of Bethlehem, the sound is so loud that it terrifies young and old alike. Just imagine, if you had to keep your children locked up in your house for months, and then keep them locked up in your neighborhood!

Children are afraid to be alone; they are terrified that something terrible will happen to their dad or mom.

The dust of continuous bombardment has fallen, symbolically, on the lives of Bethlehemite families. The children know, of the toil of their parents who have been left without work, who have no pay. They realize that something has been broken in everyday life, mom and dad are at home all day, not going to work, because there is no work for anyone. Then they hear from the adults the terrible war news, and everywhere they can see the pictures of the dead and wounded children in Gaza.

Many parents tell me that their children have changed, are sad and cry many times out of fear, and need more than ever to be just close to their parents.

Since we reopened the schools, we and the teachers have also noticed this change, and we have welcomed the children by trying to get them to do different activities, play, drama, in addition to the school curriculum, to try to get them to express their feelings, their anxieties. Getting together with their classmates helps them a lot, to play and find some serenity, and sometimes you hear them talking about the war. This makes a particular impression on me, they should be talking about soccer, dolls, games, and instead they talk about the war!

Even at the John Paul II Foundation house, an oasis of peace within the city of Bethlehem also with ample outdoor spaces, we have resumed activities, whether in the classrooms, such as drawing and painting, or outdoors, such as games and meetings aimed at recovering friendship and motor skills lost to fear. But everything is marked by how the days go, depending on the conflict. Today's children in Bethlehem, they are all those born after the wall was built, have grown up with this terrible situation, yet they have learned to live with it, despite it being so difficult. But today they are isolated from the world, they are locked inside Bethlehem, it is the duty of all of us, to help and support the families so that they can raise their children, deprived of their childhood; these children of Bethlehem, they will be the future of this city they will be the men and women who will continue to witness the Christian presence near the holy places.

In our schools in the morning we recite the Simple Prayer of St. Francis, they are rules of life, which we repeat every day, so that they enter the heart and mind of every child, because children are the smile of heaven entrusted to the earth. They are the true jewels of the family and society.

I treasured this letter written to children in 2006 by John Paul II; "Dear children, I write to you thinking of when I too, many years ago, was a child like you. We must pray together and much, so that humanity, made up of several million human beings, may become more and more a family of God and may live in peace ... (I have reminded you) of the unspeakable sufferings that so many children have experienced in this century and those that many of them continue to endure at this time. (...) Precisely by meditating on these facts that fill our hearts with sorrow, I have decided to ask you, dear children and young people, to take charge of the prayer for peace."

Father Ibrahim Faltas

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