Education, a reason to stay in the Holy Land

Education, a reason to stay in the Holy Land

“Education is the key for Christians to remain in the Holy Land”: fra Peter Vasko, Franciscan of the Custody of the Holy Land is convinced of this. Forty years ago, the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL) was founded with the purpose of stopping the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land. The Foundation, which Fra Peter presides is based in the United States, and works under the patronage of the Custody of the Holy Land.

Educating to stop the exodus of Christians

This is how fra Peter describes the start of this adventure: “Since the mid-20th century, an ongoing exodus of Christians has been taking place from the Holy Land, due to political and economic factors. Most Church leaders have been saying that if nothing is done, within 50 years Christianity could easily disappear from the land where Christ founded his Church. It is then that the FFHL took up the challenge to help stem this exodus.”

From meetings with young people and their families, to the question on what would have made them stay in the Holy Land, “the overwhelming response was that if they could get a college education so as to secure some permanent employment they would remain.”

Support for all ages

Most of the families were unable to sustain the costs for their children’s university education. The first project of the FFHL was to create scholarships for this purpose. The candidates had to show that they were Christian, had average high marks in high school and had economic problems. “All applications are reviewed by a Selection Committee  and then sent to four professors in the U.S. for review who make the final decision of choosing the winners.”

Over time, the FFHL also developed other projects to support the education of young Christians who live in the Holy Land. Today the Foundation -  which raises about US$1.8 million every year – supports students from primary and middle schools, as well as those who undertake vocational courses: “We assist students learning how to become plumbers, electricians, carpenters... We extended our help to those wishing to learn trades within the hospitality industry whether it be in hotel management, cuisine cooking, or taking courses to become a guide or travel agent.”

The FFHL also supports some students from the Magnificat, the Custody of the Holy Land’s music school.

The numbers and the faces

To date, the Foundation has contributed to financing the university studies of over 600 Christian students, 300 of whom have already graduated. This takes place both through direct sponsoring by some donors and through wider fund-raising by the FFHL. There are more than 750 scholarships for primary and middle schools and over 300 for vocational courses. For the current  school year, the FFHL is supporting 175 young Christians.

Among the beneficiaries of the scholarships who have already graduated, 93% have a permanent job  and only one has moved abroad. One of them is  Zaki Sahlia, who today is a lawyer, in charge of the “Department of endowments” of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. His family found themselves in severe economic hardship when he was only 13, and he was able to continue his studies thanks to support from the FFHL. “Opening my own private law firm specializing in real estate and property management in Jerusalem was a dream come true, made possible by the unwavering support of FFHL. I appreciate the Franciscan Friars for their continuous efforts in aiding those in need, promoting education, and empowering Christians. I express heartfelt gratitude to FFHL and its generous donors. The assistance given to young Christians for college education is a priceless gift, fostering professional growth and strengthening our faith in the homeland of Christ.”

A continuing mission 

“Through support for studies and education,” fra Peter concludes, “FFHL wants to help the young Christians strengthen their faith, responsibility, integrity and commitment. We also want to cultivate a strong moral character in our students and to be able to serve their Christian community with skill, grace, and compassion.”

“These are the future Christians of the Holy Land and we must take care of them so that they can take care of other brothers and sisters living in this land,” concludes fra Peter.

Marinella Bandini

You can support the educational realities of the Custody through the DONATE NOW page on the website of the Custody of the Holy Land and the next Good Friday Collection, which will be on Good Friday, 29 March, all over the world. This is the main source for supporting life around the Holy Places.