Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Kentish Town, north London, gave a warm welcome to a priest from Bethlehem over the weekend.
Melkite Fr Mamdouh Abusada is the founder of 'the School of Joy,' a school for children with special needs and learning difficulties, based in Beit Sahour, near the Shepherds Fields where it is said the shepherds heard the news of the birth of Jesus in nearby Bethlehem.
Fr Abusada said in his homily, that for centuries the town had a majority Christian population - some of the liturgies are in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. But over the past few years, the difficult living conditions, shortage of water, restricted travel, lack of education, health and social services has forced many Christians to leave. The charity Friends of the Holy Land assists around 2000 Christian families. They give grants to families for education, housing, medical care, and water tanks as well as establishing small projects giving people work.
The charity also supports the School of Joy. State schools run by the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, do not have the resources to look after pupils with learning difficulties and so these children have often ended up wandering the streets. This led Fr Abusada to set up the school in 1993.
"We started with eleven children" he said. "By the end of the first year we had 30. Now we have over 70 pupils, and 20 staff." In the school of Joy the children receive love and support. "We teach them skills to become independent" he said. The children are taught olive wood carving and other handicrafts.
This week, Fr Abusada will be speaking at the Cardinal Vaughan School in west London. He will also be visiting parishes in Esher and Cricklewood.
(See more pictures on ICN's Facebook page.)
For more information, or if you would like to support the School of Joy, visit the Friends of the Holy Land website - www.friendsoftheholyland.org.uk/
See a short film about the School of Joy here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilETiSFrz9w
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