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Br Peter Bray, Bethlehem
6 April 2015
Greetings as we come to the end of the Easter celebrations here in the Holy Land.
I have not been able to put together a reflection over this Easter because I have been caught up in accompanying one of the members of our community as he died at the age of 88. Brother Cyril Litecky (1,2) was taken to hospital the Saturday before Easter, was put into the intensive care unit on Tuesday and then died at 6:45am on Saturday morning, 4 April 2015. I was among the Brothers who accompanied him during his last days and hours and watched as a good man came to the end of his life with dignity and surrender. Several of us kept turns in being with him and while his vital organs gradually collapsed and he laboured to breath, he was still lucid and able to keep contact with us right up until a few hours before his death. I have a fond memory of sitting with him very early on Saturday morning and seeing him open his eyes, look around the ward and then turn his head towards me, look me in the eye, nod his head and give me one of his wonderful full smiles of recognition and appreciation – a wonderful memory.
Brother Cyril first came from Minnesota in the USA to Bethlehem University in 1984 and held several senior positions at Bethlehem University where he made a significant contribution to the building of the university. When I arrived here at the end of 2008, he became my personal assistant and worked in a number of areas which helped me significantly. He was a great advocate for students who were having difficulties, particularly students from very poor homes or from refugee camps. His gentle, but firm way of engaging with people and with issues lead him to be admired and treasured by faculty, staff and students. People knew he cared about them and wanted to do everything he could to be of service to them. He was a man of faith who lived out of that faith as a true Brother of De La Salle by putting faith into action in his engagement with people and his care for them. He will be farewelled this afternoon, Monday 6 April, and will be greatly missed. Please keep him in your prayers and also pray for those of us who continue to seek to put into practice the things he worked so hard to establish. It was a real privilege and inspiration to be able to accompany Brother Cyril as his life here came to an end. I am deeply grateful for that privilege and for the opportunity to having lived with him for more than six year.
Bethlehem University has continue to explore ways it can develop and has received considerable support from the local business and industry and financial support from USAID and other agencies. In all these moves we seek to find ever better ways to respond to the needs of the Palestinian people.
The work on the renovation of the library begins in a few weeks and will be finished by the end of January 2016. We have been able to raise the almost $2.9 million to get this first project in our development under way. This will be a wonderful improvement of the learning environment for the students and I wanted it to be a statement about the importance of learning here. I think it will do that.
It is hard to know what will follow from the elections in Israel. Most Palestinian were not particularly surprised with the result, but somewhat disappointed. There lot would not really have changed much with a different parliament, so it would not really have made a great difference for them. The situation is gradually getting worse and the solution is not going to be within Israel. If the injustice and oppression is going to stop it will only be as a result of outside pressure. The settlers and the far right have too much influence now and are pushing for policies that are going to make life for Palestinians worse. At Bethlehem University we are trying to assess the impact on our operation of what is unfolding in Israel. We are clear about our aims and we are progressing the means to find better ways to serve. I am finding as I travel and engage with people in various parts of the world that there is a growing awareness of the value of what we are doing and an interest in supporting that, so I hope that continues.
This region is having a tough time at present and it is hard to see how a solution can be reached. The spread of fundamentalism and the persecution of groups are a cause of concern, but fear cannot be the dominant factor. When Michel Sabbah was Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem he wrote in one of his pastoral letter to the Christian in the Holy Land: “Your first duty is to be equal to the situation. However complicated or difficult it is, you should try to understand it. Take all the facts into account. Consider them objectively, calmly but courageously, and resist any temptation to fear and despair.”
This has become more of a challenge as the savage attacks on people, some of whom are Christians, have spread. It is important not to label this fundamentalism as simply “Islamic” and equate it with Muslims (1). At Bethlehem University over 70% of our students are Muslims and what we are doing here is helping to confront the issues that arise around groups becoming isolated and fearful. As an unashamedly Catholic institution, Bethlehem University is an important way in which the Church can reach out beyond the fear and isolation that people can be pulled into.
We are serving mostly Muslim families and showing in the way we do things that we want everyone to live life as fully as they possibly can – the mission of Jesus! This is helping to build a society in which people are respected and encouraged to work together to build a better world. Our challenge is to keep hope alive in the midst of uncertainty on many fronts and to help people, particularly our students, to see meaning in their lives.
Please keep us in your prayers as we put in motion the steps we have decided are needed to help us respond more effectively to the needs of the Palestinian people.
I pray that the Spirit of the Risen Lord inspires you as this year continues to unfold and that you have the experience of a deep peace and the courage to step out in faith to help this world be more peaceful and a place where people experience justice in their lives.
Best wishes and thanks.
Brother Peter Bray, FSC, EdD
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Rue des Freres
Mail: Peter Bray FSC, EdD
P.O. Box 11407