Bethlehem (AsiaNews) "We Franciscans in the Holy Land are happy because Bethlehem now has a beautiful, new and elegant building. In such difficult times, it is a sign of hope and courage," Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custodian of the Holy Land, said. He and his fellow Franciscans are indeed pleased with the opening of the new day-care centre in Bethlehem's Terra Sancta College. The building sports all the newest facilities in pre-school education for the expected 350 preschoolers, both Christian and Muslim, who will attend.
For Father Pizzaballa, the new school is "a sign of hope" because "creating an environment for children means having hope for this land". It is also "a sign of courage" because in such "difficult times we chose education and learning instead of divisive barriers".
Success in pulling off such a large-scale project mirrors the contradictions of Palestinian society which, in spite of its daily dramas, is still looking forward to life.
Since the start of the second intifada 112 Jewish children died as did 576 Arab children. And yet, "this school," Father Piazzaballa believes, "is a sign for us not to pull back into our certainties, but rather to open up to others and love them."
The building has six floors. The first three have classrooms, each for 24 pupils. The fourth floor has laboratory with modern hands-on teaching equipment that allows children to fully develop their talents and explore their limits. The last two floors are modern play areas.
The Custodians of the Holy Land, especially Fr Ibrahim Faltas, are responsible for getting the school built thanks to the support of Italian donors, among them the dioceses and cooperatives of Tuscany, the Antoniano of Bologna and San Marino's Progetto Sorriso.
For Mgr Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, "the inauguration of the modern day-care centre is a victory of hope for the future and solidarity". "Builders," he said, "have a better future than destroyers. And those who love have a brighter future than those who hate". Mgr Sambi hopes that the school will be "the first step in a renewal process that won't be just brick and mortar, but will involve discussing the entire Church community's commitment to the city".
Mgr Piergiuseppe Vacchelli, deputy secretary and president of the Committee for Charitable Interventions in the Third World of the Italian Bishops' Conference, said that the "school must nourish the knowledge of life and sharing in a world that needs peace".