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Recent and ongoing news again highlights and underlines the dreadful plight of those living in the Holy Land.  The news has primarily concerned Gaza and Jerusalem but when the turmoil subsides the challenges of daily living for those who remain will have been immeasurably increased.  The conflict will have added its own contribution to the poverty and insecurity of the people living there.  Daily living will be much more difficult as even more scarce resources have to stretch to help, the homeless, the displaced, the ill and injured.  The vulnerable will be even more vulnerable.  The elderly will suffer and life will be even more difficult than it was before.

Just a year ago on 6 October The Hallam (Bethlehem) Fund was launched, with an initial objective of raising £250,000 to purchase a plot of land in order to provide premises for the care of the elderly in Bethlehem.  Laila Asfoura from Bethlehem attended the launch and she expressed her gratitude to the Diocese for undertaking this project, which she said was very necessary.  She thanked the Diocese for its continuing support in providing funds for St Martha’s House – which seeks to provide some care for a small number of women.  Presently St Martha’s can cater for 37 women 4 days per week.  The house can only accommodate 22 people at any one time.

Laila emphasised the importance of the project to the long term care of the elderly in Bethlehem where they hoped that one day they would have a Centre that provided care to women and men and, yet further into the future, they dreamed of being able to provide hospice care.  For any of that to come about it is first necessary to purchase the land.

Emeritus Bishop John, formerly Chair of CAFOD and himself no stranger to scenes of despair and devastation across the world, spoke of the great need that is evident in Bethlehem.  In describing the situation in Bethlehem he said, “There are walls, barriers, checkpoints; people are looking over their shoulders; they cannot reach their fields or get to work.  The peoples who have lived in that land for thousands of years have been displaced and find their everyday lives and their livelihoods constrained.  Many have lost their homes and live in refugee camps.  They come from ancient Christian communities who can trace their roots to Christ himself and they now find themselves isolated and can practise their faith only with great difficulty.  There is little industry except tourism and tourism suffers when times are troubled and the political situation is uneasy.  Inevitably their young people leave to find a new life and freedom; and so the communities have disproportionate numbers of children and old people.  The children, of course, have their parents but the elderly often have no-one to care for them and live lives of extreme loneliness and poverty, the widows especially so.  The Christian communities of the Holy Land grow smaller and weaker by the day.

“The Hallam Diocesan Pilgrimages of the last two years have come face to face with this situation and resolved to try to help in some way.  The Hallam (Bethlehem) Fund is a charity which we have set up in this Diocese to help this community realise its dreams and care for its old people.  If we can relieve the burdens on the elderly, then the young will the more easily be able to work for their children and their wider community.”

Since the launch there have been generous responses from a number of parishes.  Some have donated the proceeds of their Christmas Cribs, other parish groups have organised fundraising events and there have been a number of events such as dances, draws, raffles, shoe sales and a golf day to raise funds.  Bishop Ralph has agreed to be a Patron of the Trust Fund.

The reality of Christmas in Bethlehem is not the Christmas card scene, it is a place where peace has not yet come and where elderly still face challenges in daily living.  The tourists have slowed to a trickle, employment is scarce.  Without pensions, social care or support a great many elderly people will have no hope.  The absence of care for the elderly is recognised as a crisis.

The Trustees wish to thank all those who have contributed and continue to contribute to the Fund.  There is still a way to go before we reach our goal but not as far as this time last year.  There are a number of events, planned details of which will appear on the Diocesan website.

The Trustees have visited Bethlehem at their own expense and discussed the project with the Mayor of Bethlehem who has offered her support.

Please do something in your parish to help the elderly of Bethlehem particularly at Christmas.  More information is available from the Diocesan Website or at www.hallambethlehemfund.com.

It is also possible to make a donation by mobile by texting 70070 and prefixing your donation with THBF01 (eg THBF01£5).  This will give the Trust a £5 donation.  There are no deductions made and all of your donation is paid to the Fund.  The upper limit by mobile is £10.

It is possible to make monthly contributions, however small by text, by electronic banking or by direct debit.  Donations can also be made from the Just Giving website.  Please do try and contribute something no matter how small.

Please pray for the success of the project and please help in whatever way you can.  The Trustees are available to give talks to any parish groups or events on the reality of the situation in the Holy Land.  For further information contact Joe McNally on 07891072858 or joegmcnally@btinternet.com.

Hallam Bethlehem fund s

Pictured are Emeritus Bishop John and Trustees of the Fund with Laila Asfoura, the Mayor of Bethlehem, at the launch of the Fund in October last year.