On 7 and 14 November, 35 children took part in the sacraments in the Church of Our Lady Woman of Valour in Tel Aviv. They belong to Philippine and Indian families who live among Hebrew-speaking Israelis. For Fr Di Bitonto, with the services, a "circle was closed" after more than two years of catechesis and preparation. The festivities were restrained but with "great participation".
Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) – Tel Aviv’s Church of Our Lady of Valor saw a number of confirmations and first communions celebrated on 7 and 14 November for the children of Israel’s migrant communities, mostly from the Philippines and India.
After more than two years of preparation and a postponement in May due to the coronavirus pandemic, the “circle was closed” with communions and confirmations "in a minor tone" due to existing restrictions, which have "reduced the festive atmosphere,” said Fr Benedetto Di Bitonto, of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The priest is active in the Saint James Vicariate where he provides pastoral care to Hebrew speakers among migrant communities. This year, “to be honest, the usual joy was not there,” he told AsiaNews.
“In Filipino culture there are usually four godparents,” he explained. “This time, only one godfather and the parents. The service took place in the courtyard, perhaps in a lesser way but in an atmosphere that was still proper with great participation.”
On the first two Saturdays of this month, 35 children of migrants living amid Hebrew-speaking Israelis and other members of the Saint James Vicariate gathered in the Church of Our Lady Woman of Valour, in Tel Aviv, for the First Communion and Confirmation.
Fr Rafic Nahra, patriarchal vicar, and Fr Renato, director of the Our Lady Woman of Valour Pastoral Centre, co-celebrated the solemn Eucharistic service in the presence of the children and their parents.
On 7 November, two Masses were held for 23 young people who received Confirmation after two years of catechism. The following week, one Mass was held for 12 other children who received the First Communion. All three services took place outdoors.
Usually this is done in May, at the end of the catechetical year, but this year, COVID-19 restrictions led to a postponement.
“This process began two years ago,” Fr Di Bitonto said. Now "Children are tired of restrictions and distance learning, spending most of their time studying on the computer. For this reason, confirmations and communions were a moment of joy, albeit more quietly.
"They were able to meet, get together, which is something they have not been able to do before, when they could not socialise.”
Completing the long journey that led them to the celebration of the sacraments brought a sense of "liberation".
“This was a race against time,” Fr Di Bitonto, “because the cold and rainy season will soon begin and it would have been difficult to celebrate outdoors as we did.”
For migrants, "the Church in many cases represents the only venue of getting together in a life dedicated almost entirely to work. For them, gathering on the Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest in Israel, to meet compatriots has become the centre of their life. Breaking this habit was very difficult.”
The Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew-speaking Catholics was established to serve the faithful who live in Israel, immersed in a Jewish cultural and linguistic environment.
Hebrew-speaking Catholic communities are active essentially in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa, Beer Sheba and Tiberias. The Vicariate includes communities of Russian-speaking Catholics.
The vicariate faces a number of challenges, such as transmission of the faith for a minority within a Jewish majority, bearing witness to justice and peace, serving the poor, migrants and asylum seekers, promoting dialogue through interfaith activities with Muslims and Jews.
Nonetheless, this situation provides an opportunity to experience living together in peace and mutual understanding despite unresolved problems.