ACN has helped to fund an apartment block project for Arab Christians in Jerusalem
by Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Jerusalem (ACN) – “We have had to wait a long time, but at last a lifetime’s dream has come true.” Rami and Ramia are a young Christian married couple amd bery recently began life with their three children in a home of their very own. Sounds quite normal doesn’t it? Not in Jerusalem, one of the most complicated cities in the world.
This project – the building of an apartment block in the south of the city -was completed this year under the auspices of the Latin patriarchate of Jerusalem, and it is in fact quite special for it has provided new homes for 72 Christian families of all denominations.
“It is not easy for Arab Christians in Jerusalem to acquire property. They find themselves caught between all the different fronts,” says Rami. The now completed project was an idea had by Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali, which came to him during the second intifada. At that time, in 2003, the Christian exodus from the Holy Land was exceptionally high. “We wanted to do something to counter the Christian exodus from Jerusalem,” says Bishop William, who is responsible for the Jerusalem area. “Many people were sceptical and doubted it could be done. But with God’s help we have now achieved it.”
The project was also financially supported by the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). A representative of the Latin patriarchate explained the criteria according to which the families were chosen, for the applicants far outnumbered the available places. “Initially almost 500 families applied. That shows just how great the need is for affordable homes for the Christians here. But sadly we could not fulfil all their wishes. We wanted to encourage middle-class Christian families from Jerusalem who had no property of their own in the city and who were in some way or other involved in the life of the Church. We were particularly concerned for young families.”
Consequently, the successful applicants tend to be people like teachers in the Christian schools, those working in Christian hospitals, or – as in the case of the Ramis – people working for a human rights organization. “It is already an effort for us to find the credit repayments for the apartment. In recent years this sum has unfortunately almost doubled, owing to unforeseen costs. And life in Jerusalem is in any case expensive. So it is quite simply impossible without making economies.” His wife Ramia, a teacher in a Christian school, elaborates: “That’s why for the past eight years we lived with my parents-in-law in order to save money. It wasn’t always easy, but ultimately it was worth it.” However, the savings needed in order to cope with the payments is far from over yet. “With heavy hearts we had to withdraw our children from their violin lessons and their folk dancing group,” Ramia explains. “Also we could not afford to take a summer holiday this year. But instead we visited the holy places in the country with the children.”
The children are happy anyway. “We straightaway found lots of friends here” explains 11-year-old Jack, who is playing football with his brothers Richard and Carlos in the yard. But the parents are also happy about it. “It is like a Christian island,” says Ramia. “Everybody helps everybody else. We meet together for barbecues and other celebrations. The atmosphere is really good. You can live here happily as a Christian. And there is even a Catholic church not far away. That’s where we go to Mass on Sundays.”
There are some tensions with the Muslim neighbourhood however. “Everyone in the house here will confirm that the muezzin on the nearby mosque has been calling out still louder, ever since we Christians moved in here. That’s the way things are here in the Middle East. As soon as Christians build a church, a mosque springs up right next to it. Now we have Christian apartments here, and so they turn up the volume of the loudspeaker on the minaret,” says Ramia. “Don’t misunderstand me – my best friend is a Muslim girl. But as a general tendency, I do believe that we Christians are more open and tolerant.” But then those are minor irritations, she adds. “Jerusalem is our holy city too. Why should we go away?”
Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada