Christian schools demand equality

Israel: families took to streets to protest budget cuts. The solidarity of the European bishops in Nazareth to parents and teachers

A group of children aged 6-7 waved banners stating, “Our Christian schools are in danger”, behind them, their parents repeated: “Our schools risk shutting down”. Further down a group of pre-adolescents in shorts and coloured T-shirts held yellow cards written in English: “Christian schools demand equality”. Nothing more than equality: while throughout Europe schools have reopened after the summer holidays, the Catholic community in Nazareth rallies in protest. Indeed, school lessons did not resume on September 1st owing to a respectful but firm form of protest. The Israeli government cut grants to Christian institutes. In the Country there are 47 Christian schools, 40 of which are Catholic, attended by over 33 thousand students (only half of whom are baptized), with 3 thousand teachers. The embrace of European bishops. Thus on September 12 the bishops attending the assembly-pilgrimage to the Holy Land, went to bring their solidarity to families and students at “Holyland”, a Christian school in Nazareth, near the Basilica of the Annunciation. It was a joyful event: children, young boys and girls welcomed the prelates from 40 different Countries, with hand-clapping, hugs, prayers, chants and words of friendship. Card. Péter Erdö, CCEE president, took the floor before hundreds of attendees, appealing to the value of the family, freedom of education, faith witness in everyday life. Near him stood the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, who afterwards went to another area of the protest: a tent put up on the hills of the city, near the town council, where mothers, fathers, students and teachers staged a sit-in. A parent, a teacher and some students eventually addressed the European bishops at the meeting held near the Annunciation Basilica. A girl said with a smile: “I should be happy that school is closed, so I can continue my holidays. Instead I’m worried because I don’t know whether my school will have a future”. A teacher added: “Please convey our voices also in your home Countries”. “A future for our youths”. Msgr. Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, patriarchal vicar for Israel, president of the Commission for Education within the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (ACOHL) provided an overview of the situation:: “We demand that the state continues giving us what has been provided for by law. Today we receive only 29% of the funds to which we are entitled. “For us, the schools are the future – continues Marcuzzo -. We are only 2% of the population, among Jews and Muslims. Without our schools Christians are lost. All of our young people want to leave and for this we do the impossible to make them stay here. By educating and training Christian children we help them build a career, start a family, and have roots. Those who are not qualified leave”, and the Christian community risks disappearing from the land of Jesus. “Everything went well until 2009, – noted the bishop – for a long time Israel complied with the law providing for funding to public schools and to those recognized but unofficial like ours. Problems broke out after 2009, when far-right parties began to place obstacles”. Judaization under way. In the course of a few years, state funding to Christian schools dropped by over 45%, forcing these educational institutions to increase school fees for the families. “Why do Jewish and Muslim schools of our same category receive all their dues by law?” asked monsignor Marcuzzo, against the backdrop of a “growing risk of judaisation”. “Soon – he pionted out – also the names of cities like Jerusalem could be judaised”. But something is changing. “We worked hard over the past few days – revealed Monsignor Marcuzzo -: we spoke with ministers and MPs, and they all agreed with us”. “After all – he added – Christian schools churn out trained and qualified people. The best professionals in the country have attended Christian schools. For now, we received many promises, but nothing in writing. Hopefully soon we will see a glimmer of light. We are waiting for news from the Minister”. Guaranteeing identity. Monsignor Giuseppe Lazzarotto, nuncio in Israel, apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine echoed the same stand: “We don’t want privileges; we want equal treatment. All we’re asking is that the Israeli State guarantees to our schools what it guarantees to other schools in the same category, with no discriminations”. For the Vatican representative “the proposal of transforming Christian and Catholic schools into public schools (the proposal was made by the State of Israel, ed.’s note) means questioning the very nature of those institutions that should preserve their peculiar identity”.

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