Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – With their long strike against budget cuts over, Israel’s Catholic schools and their 30,000 students went back to studying a few days ago.
Following established practice, the Patriarchal Vicar to Israel, Mgr Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, and the director general of the Patriarchate, Fr Faisal Hijazin, toured the Patriarchate-run educational facilities.
A report posted on the website of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem noted that “This year’s visit had a special taste and significance.” Mgr Marcuzzo and Fr Hijazin “didn’t find anyone who played the victim because of the strike, but they found teachers and students in good faith, full of enthusiasm. To their big surprise, they found out that even children of the primary classes were aware of the reasons behind the strike.”
In a country where the authorities have generally shown little sensitivity towards Christian schools and students, the protest launched by Israel’s Catholic schools against funding cuts and government attempts to take control ended successfully after four weeks, on September 28. During that period, the striking schools received the support of the Church of the Holy Land and European bishops.
Schools complained about dual discrimination. On the one hand, the government cut subsidies so that its funding covered only 29 per cent of school costs; on the other, it limited the amount of fees schools could charge families.
Under the settlement, the Israeli government agreed to pay a first instalment of 50 million shekels for the academic year 2015-2016 (US$ 13 million out of a US$ 12 billion education budget), and drop the cuts it introduced in 2013.
Now students are entitled to full-time teachers. The latter will receive full compensation for refresher courses, sick leave and special permits. The two sides also agreed on a commission to settle future disputes.
Addressing teachers, students, parents and school officials, the Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem underlined their “positive role" during the days of protest. He also outlined the Commission’s operational plan to compensate for the 14 days of strike.
He wished all schools a successful academic year in the spirit of the forthcoming “Year of Mercy”, hoping that children will be able to learn about Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ encyclical.
Finally, the report on the Patriarchate’s website listed some Catholic schools in the Holy Land, which Mgr Marcuzzo and Fr Hijazin visited during the summer months.
The two travelled to the Reneh School (1,037 students and 66 teachers), which sports three new classrooms as well as two renovated ones; the Rameh School (710 students and 50 teachers), which during the hectic weeks of strike received the support of the town’s mayor; and the Jaffa of Nazareth School (582 students and 45 teachers), which is opening its 12th class this year, refurbishing its existing building, and getting a new one, pending the issuing of a construction license.
Over the coming days, Mgr Marcuzzo will also visit the two Patriarchate-run nurseries, as well as all other schools under his jurisdiction as Latin Patriarchal Vicar in Israel.