This weekend, a Melkite Priest from Bethlehem, Fr Mamdouh Abusada will be visiting Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Kentish Town, north London.
The Melkites trace their origin back to the early Christian community in Antioch (mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles) and celebrate Mass in the Byzantine Rite (as do the Greek Orthodox).
In 1993 Fr Abusada founded a school, called the School of Joy, in Beit Sahour, near the Shepherds Fields just outside Bethlehem. It is in the West Bank, the territory under Israeli Military Government since 1967. The school for 'slow learners', children who because of various disabilities cannot get into the state schools run by the Palestinian Authority who do not have the kind of funds available in this country for young people with special needs. Some of the children have been taken off the streets by Fr Mamdouh.
Parish priest Fr John Deehan writes: "There is not a culture of looking after children with special needs in this part of the world. Often parents are at their wits' end to know how to look after their children. So part of Fr Abusada's mission is to help the parents understand that their child is still a special gift of God and to support them so that they can accept their child and give him/her the love they need.
"His aim is to give these students the education they need to enable them to have some degree of independence and the ability to earn a living. One of the projects in the school is a little factory making olive wood products, a feature of Bethlehem and the local area. Educating these children is a long, slow process, and requires very special teachers. No money is available from state funds for this kind of school, which is unique in the area.
"Over the years The School of Joy has been supported by The Friends of the Holy Land, a charity set up in 2007 by Michael Whelan. Michael was also a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, an organisation which supports the Church in the Holy Land. The group of pilgrims who accompanied Michael were so moved by the plight of ordinary Christians in the Holy Land that they decided to set up a charity to offer direct help to individuals and their families. Today FHL is supporting around 2000 Christian families along with different projects in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Jordan. They give grants to named families for education -paying all or part of the fees so that they can go to the catholic schools, for housing, for health and employment."
Fr Abusada is in London for two weeks and he will spend his first weekend in Kentish Town. He will be raising funds for the Friends of the Holy Land charity which will go directly to the School of Joy. There will be a retiring collection after each Mass and I hope there will be an opportunity for parishioners to meet him personally. Fr John writes: "It may be that some of us might like to sponsor or part sponsor a student in the school."
Our Lady Help of Christians - https://parish.rcdow.org.uk/kentishtown/
Friends of the Holy Land - www.friendsoftheholyland.org.uk/
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