15 February 2012
Efforts to bring healing and hope to a land where Christ continues to suffer will be centre stage this Lent with a visit to Palmerston North and Wellington dioceses of the secretary-general of Caritas Jerusalem, Claudette Habesch.
Ms Habesch, who has headed up the Church’s aid and development agency in the Holy Land for the last 25 years, visits New Zealand late this month for Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand’s Lent Appeal.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand director Julianne Hickey says the agency is pleased to host someone of such experience and standing in the Caritas network for Lent. Ms Habesch is also a past president of Caritas Middle East and Northern Africa region (Caritas MONA) and a vice-president of Caritas Internationalis.
Sacred but scarred by violence
‘Her visit to our shores provides an opportunity for prayer and reflection on the current reality in the Holy Land,’ says Ms Hickey. ‘This is a place rich in both historic and symbolic meaning for Christians and other religious groups, yet scarred by violence and injustice.’
As part of a liturgy of prayer for peace in the Holy Land, Ms Habesch will give a public address in Wellington (February 26) and Palmerston North (March 4) cathedrals on how Caritas Jerusalem promotes healing, hope and justice within Palestinian society.
Catholics in both dioceses are also invited to join Ms Habesch, Caritas staff and local supporters on a pilgrimage to Hiruharama (Jerusalem) on the Whanganui River. Ms Hickey says the visit to Hiruharama will be a spiritual journey linking concerns for health, healing and wholeness in both lands.
In New Zealand, she is working with Catholic school students, and meeting church groups, Parliamentarians, inter-faith communities, members of the Palestinian community, the media and anyone interested in issues of peace and justice for the Holy Land.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is currently supporting Caritas Jerusalem to expand its community health care to communities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza territories, with support from the New Zealand Aid Programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Caritas Jerusalem was founded after the Six-Day War in 1967, to provide immediate relief – food, water and medical care – to war victims in the occupied Palestinian territories. Health care remains the core of its mission, but it has expanded its work to include employment programmes, children’s health camp, care of the elderly and counselling.
‘We serve the people at large,’ says Ms Habesch. ‘We serve all the children of God … regardless of their religion, race or colour. … and, in whatever way possible, we try to help.’
Ms Habesch’s visit will also promote prayer for the Holy Land through the Peace Lamps project – an initiative of the Christian community of Taybeh on the West Bank. This project encourages people of faith around the world to pray for peace, particularly in the Holy Land. It also provides employment in Palestine through the production of lamps and olive oil.
Expelled as a child
Ms Habesch herself experienced the dispossession and exile of the Palestinian people when her family were expelled from their Jerusalem home in the 1948 war. In speaking about the effect on her life and work, she says:
‘I am prepared to forgive [the Israelis], but I will never forget the years of suffering by the little girl of seven, in whose bed another child was sleeping and whose bicycle another child was riding… I recognise the right of the State of Israel to exist in 78 percent of the territories of Mandatory Palestine, but I do not recognise its right to expel Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and put in Jews.’
Ms Habesch is a member of the Committee for Christian Affairs of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and of the Islamic-Christian Commission funded by the PA to support Jerusalem and the Holy Sites. For 20 years she has been active in the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) and in the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees. She also participates in the inter-religious activities of Rabbis for Human Rights.
Wellington and Palmerston North Events:
•Sunday February 26: 4pm: Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hill St, Wellington. ‘Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem’ – liturgy including address by Claudette Habesch.
•Wednesday February 29, 5.30-7pm: Wellington City Library community room: Public meeting on Caritas Jerusalem’s work in Palestine.
•Sunday March 4, 3pm: Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, 197 Broadway Avenue, Palmerston North. ‘Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem’ – liturgy including address by Claudette Habesch.
•Monday 5 March: Pilgrimage to Hiruharama/Jerusalem. Contact Caritas 0800 22 10 22 or visit our website www.caritas.org.nz for more details.