Br Peter Bray walking Camino trail to raise money for Bethlehem University

Br Peter Bray fsc – the New Zealander who was vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University for 15 years until his retirement last December – has set out on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. 

Br Peter Bray on rooftop patio at Bethlehem University. Photos: Supplied

WelCom June/July 2024

Br Peter Bray fsc – the New Zealander who was vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University for 15 years until his retirement last December – has set out on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. 

He is walking in solidarity with the Palestinian people to raise money for Bethlehem University, which has a $1 million gap largely caused by issues related to the Israel-Hamas war.

The El Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage of faith that walks to Santiago de Compostela, St James of the Field of Stars. 

Br Peter began his 730km walk on 23 May in Pamplona in north-eastern Spain. He expects to take at least 39 days to reach its conclusion at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, north-western Spain. Br Peter estimates he will take between 1.2 and 1.3 million steps. He says it would be wonderful to get $1 a step, ‘though that might be ambitious’.

‘As so many [Bethlehem University] students’ families are involved in the hospitality industry, and because no pilgrims or tourists are visiting Palestine, there is no income available to those families,’ Br Peter says. 

‘In addition, with checkpoints closed to [West Bank] Palestinian workers who have jobs in Jerusalem, the same applies to those families. This means children of those families who attend Bethlehem University are having serious difficulties paying their tuition. As a result, the university has difficulties paying salaries and running costs. My little effort is one contribution to help address this challenge.’

Br Peter undertook a speaking tour of Aotearoa New Zealand in January and February last year, invited by the Catholic bishops to talk about the lives and conditions of his students and ordinary Palestinians. 

Since his retirement from the university, Br Peter has been at a sabbatical programme in San Antonio, Texas, which has just concluded. He says the time has given him the chance to stand back and reflect on Bethlehem University’s work.

‘It has given me a greater appreciation of its mission. Being so far away from campus and hearing about what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank is a great source of grief for me,’ Br Peter wrote in a letter to his many supporters the week before he set out on his walk.

‘During the course of that programme [in San Antonio], I was continually upset with what I was hearing about the attack on the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Yet I felt helpless and disempowered. I was wondering what I could do with what I have here! I decided to walk the El Camino de Santiago in Spain to draw attention to what is happening in Palestine and to support the students at Bethlehem University. I would invite your prayerful support, and, if possible, your financial and moral support.

‘While I do not have money to contribute, I do have the feet to take these steps in solidarity with Palestine and in support of the students. I would ask you to think about what you can do, where you are, with what you have!

Br Peter Bray walking the Camino in solidarity with Palestinian people to raise money for Bethlehem University.

‘A gift sponsoring my journey will go directly to Bethlehem University to support tuition expenses for our young people. 

‘Above all, I ask you to pray for peace in the Holy Land, a peace based on equality and justice. I intend to keep you informed as I make progress along the way. 

‘Please keep me in your prayers as I do my little bit to stand with Palestine and support students at Bethlehem University.’

Br Peter visited Gaza a few months before the Hamas attack on Israel 7 October last year, which led to the present war, and he met with a group of young people interested in exploring ways of engaging with Bethlehem University.

‘I know at least three of those young people have been killed, but because I have lost contact with anyone in Gaza, I suspect there are more who have suffered that fate. I lament the suffering people there are enduring and feel angry and sad that this has been allowed to happen.’

Bethlehem University was established in 1973. It was the first registered university in the Occupied West Bank territory of Palestine and is the only Catholic university in the Holy Land. It is a Catholic co-educational institution in the De La Salle tradition, its mission being to provide quality higher education to the people of Palestine.

Br Peter is from Waitara in Taranaki. Before his appointment in Bethlehem, Br Peter was the Director and CEO of the Wellington Catholic Education Centre. His work as a teacher and education consultant has taken him around the world.

Visit the Bethlehem University Foundation fundraising page at to follow Br Peter’s Camino pilgrimage and learn how you can support his efforts.

Br Peter Bray and Bethlehem University Foundation, have advised over USD$17,000 (NZD$27,500) has been contributed in the first five days of Br Peter’s walk, to support the tuition and scholarship needs of students who turn to Bethlehem University for hope and opportunity.

Visit to read Br Peter’s letter in full.