JERUSALEM – Young educated Christian Palestinians would rather stay in their country than emigrate, if given the proper opportunities, according to results of a study commissioned by the Catholic Aid Coordination Committee, a consortium of Christian organizations in Jerusalem.
Sami El-Yousef, Jerusalem regional director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, a member of the consortium, said young people have a deep connection to the land and are looking to the church and church organizations to find a way to help them remain in the country by providing adequate job opportunities and help with education and housing.
The youth also expressed a strong religious commitment to their Christian faith and a keen sense of pride in their religion, El-Yousef told Catholic News Service in mid-November.
The study, conducted over several months in the late spring, aimed to help consortium members improve and coordinate the help they provide for the Christian community.
“When the results come out, the committee will align its work and come up with a common strategy to meet the needs of the Christian community,” El-Yousef said.
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem was briefed on the main findings of the working paper before he left for the Vatican to attend the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East in October, El-Yousef said.
In general, El-Yousef said, there were overlapping principles between the assessment study and the final conclusions of the synod, including the need to encourage Christians to better integrate into society.
One such action to aid in this process could be to provide loans to families so they can purchase homes in mixed neighborhoods rather than building more Christian housing projects, said El-Yousef.
According to the study, the expectations of the community are much higher than what the church and its organizations can provide.
“The Christian population expects the church to take a role in their daily lives, including health care, education and housing, which seems a bit exaggerated,” said El-Yousef. “(Political) rule in the West Bank may shift, but the constant in lives is the church and they look to it for support. This is a challenge for Catholic aid organizations.”
The report also noted the lack of cooperation between the local church and the diaspora and recommended that more be done to reconnect those communities.
The study included all centers of Christian populations, including outlying villages as well as larger urban centers and the Gaza Strip. It focused on the issues of youth, the elderly, women and laborers and also included separate interviews with 19 prominent Christians.
Many of the elderly interviewed expressed a sense of emptiness in their lives as the traditional cohesiveness of Palestinian extended families, which in the past have cared for their elderly relatives, has loosened, leaving no one at home to look after the grandparents.
“The elderly have a sense of neglect by both the government and church,” El-Yousef said. “They have little hope for the government to do much for them, so they hope the church will hear their plight and cater to their needs.”
He said there was an urgent need for recreational centers and social clubs for the elderly.
The study found that in Gaza, the Israeli blockade combined with Hamas rule have given many Christians a sense of alienation from the greater church community, from Gaza society in general and from the world at large.