There are many things we know about the Holy Land. We know what the bible has taught us, what our teachers have taught us, and what we think we know from watching the news on television, reading newspapers or listening to the radio.
What we don’t know is that the people of the Holy Land are not always fighting. Visitors are welcomed with smiles and gestures of friendship in all parts of Israel as well as Bethlehem, Ramallah and dozens of other destinations in the West Bank.
Over 180,000 Christians live in Israel and the West Bank alone. Many are in need of assistance for food, employment, care for the elderly and the cost of putting their children into Christian schools.
One of the finest organizations helping the Christians of the Holy Land is Caritas Jerusalem. His Beatitude Fouad Twal is the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and President of Caritas. The General Secretary is a dignified and passionate woman named Claudette Habesch. Mrs. Habesch can trace the history of her ancestors in Jerusalem back over 800 years, and dedicates her life to helping all people in need throughout the Holy Land.
In 2010, Knights of Columbus councils in California and Texas began fundraising to send wheelchairs and mobility devices to the Holy Land. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson wrote a letter on behalf of the Knights/Wheelchair Mission to His Beatitude Fouad Twal who enthusiastically welcomed the Knights and their mission of charity.
During a nine day fact finding mission to the Holy Land in June 2011 by American Wheelchair Mission President Chris Lewis and his son Josh, they recorded more than ten hours of video taped interviews in care and community centers, local clinics, shelters, retirement and convalescent homes, church outreach facilities and private homes in many cities throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank. The nuns, staff and volunteers who primarily run these centers are among the most generous and loving people we have ever encountered anywhere in the world.
The numbers of Christians in these communities has been falling dramatically in recent years. One of the major reasons given by numerous sources is the lack of health care for the elderly, lack of funding for children to attend Christian schools and the lack of jobs and affordable housing for Christian families.
Every person we talked to said that wheelchairs, walkers and canes would be the answer to so many prayers. Wheelchairs cost the Caritas Center in Ramallah over $1,200 US Dollars. This is the same wheelchair we can deliver to them with a $150 donation! The walkers needed cost them over $500 US Dollars and the canes are over $100 US Dollars.
The first container of 280 wheelchairs will arrive in Jerusalem in September and the next container of wheelchairs, canes, crutches and walkers will arrive in time for a Knights pilgrimage to the Holy Land in February of 2012.
Many families told us that older members immigrated to Canada or Australia because the health care, and specifically wheelchairs and mobility devices are so easy to acquire. These are people who could no longer go to church because of immobility, go outside with their family or even sit in the sun. The last thing they want to do is leave their homeland, but they need help to stay.
All of the organizations including Caritas, church funded facilities and privately funded centers help people of any and all faiths, nationalities and economic groups. We met mothers of different faiths coming together to get help for their children, as well as families of the physically disabled working together to help each other as much as possible in local communities.
The message is abundantly clear. We can help the Christians of the Holy Land in a very tangible and immediate way with the gift of mobility. We can come together as children of God and offer our prayers for those with little hope. We can learn a great lesson by watching people of all faiths sharing their love, helping each other, and living truly peaceful lives.