We had hoped to be able to blog here about the Diocesan Pilgrimage visit to L’Arche, Bethlehem. On Saturday 7 March, whilst in the Holy Land with 67 Pilgrims from Southwark Diocese and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark, we were supposed to visit the newly renovated Church of the Nativity and half of our Pilgrims were due to visit L’Arche Bethlehem and the other half the Comboni Sisters. Whenever there is a Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land we visit the project, or projects, that are supported through the Lent Call. Sadly Covid-19 (the coronavirus) beat us to Bethlehem and the West Bank was closed from 4pm on Friday 6 March. We were thus not able to go there and so were unable to visit the community and see the work that they are doing.
We were able to speak to one of the leaders, Rania, on the telephone, and Bishop Christopher sent her our greetings and told her that the Pilgrims would be praying for the community. Rania asked that greetings should be given to our Pilgrims and to the people of the Diocese and apologised to the Pilgrims that they could not be welcomed at that time. We hope that she will be able to send us more information about how things are for them and if we do receive something we will make sure to put it onto this blog.
Apart from the threat brought about by coronavirus to the people in the West Bank and elsewhere, the L’Arche communities around the world have been much concerned and troubled by the report which was recently issued about their founder Jean Vanier.
Here is what we have said about the report:
‘When it was decided that the L’Arche Community in Bethlehem would be one of the projects in the Bishop of Southwark’s Lent Call for 2020 the investigation into Jean Vanier, the Founder of L’Arche, had not been made public. The Bishop of Southwark is distressed to hear of the report’s findings and of the impact on those affected by these events. Yet, the work of L’Arche has proven to be beneficial to so many and it is for this reason that the Lent Call will continue to support the work of L’Arche in Bethlehem and the pilgrims will visit the group there. At this time it is important to support those affected including the members of the L’Arche communities as they seek to continue the important work of providing a community and work for those who might otherwise not feel part of society.’
We were fortunate to have Morwenna and Robin Orton on the trip and they have personal experience of the L’Arche community in London. Morwenna wrote something about this for our Holy Land Pilgrimage blog, which you can find here: https://southwarkpilgrimages.com/recent-posts/pilgrims-reflection-4/
As we couldn’t get into the West Bank the whole group of Pilgrims went to visit the Convent of the Missionary Sisters of Sion – also known as the Comboni sisters. We were able to hear the work that they had been doing with children who attended their nursery from Bethany. Their work had been disrupted by the building of the separation wall which took many years to complete near them. As a result the children were unable to reach the nursery easily, as they had to use a number of different buses to get there. The Sisters were so concerned not to lose contact with those whom they had been working in Bethany with that they now have a flat behind the wall and work with the Bedouin families who have had to give up their nomadic life as a result of the restrictions on movement. This is part of the report about the work that we posted on the Pilgrimage blog:
‘Standing on the roof and pointing to the wall Sister Alicia spoke about the effect that this has had on their work but most especially on the people who could no longer easily get to work or to school. She spoke most especially of the need for pregnant women to have very detailed scans as they need to book a 24 hour pass to get through the walls to go to hospital. It is so hard to imagine how women can manage, as it seems impossible that they can get the expected delivery dates just right and then deliver their babies and be back through the wall all in 24 hours. There are hospitals the other side of the separation wall but they are 50 or more miles away and getting there once someone has gone into labour is very hard.
Sister Alicia also told us about the effect that the wall is having on the work of the hospitals that now serve the people. She explained that they have become very overcrowded because they have to cater for so many more people but with no more resources. Many people from Bethany had traditionally worked in Jerusalem which used to be just a short journey away and looked to there for their healthcare and now getting to work is very difficult as they need to get passes to it or to go to medical appointments. Life is hard.’
This piece is also about the visit to the Sisters https://southwarkpilgrimages.com/recent-posts/pilgrims-reflection-2/
As I look back on the various visits that I have made to the Holy Land and the work that is happening to try to help the different communities there I am always struck by the determination of some, often women, to work tirelessly to try to make a difference to those around them and I give thanks to God for this and hope that you will feel moved to do so too and to support their work through the Bishop’s Lent Call. We hope to be able to support the work of the Comboni sisters in the future and were able to leave gifts through the collection at the Eucharist and by buying the gifts that they had on offer.