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Educators from Holy Land visit archdiocese

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October 21, 2011

By Patricia McGeever

ARCHDIOCESE — Twelve educators from the Holy Land recently shared knowledge of their culture and classrooms with their counterparts in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and they found that even though their schools are separated by great distance and have some differences, there are also many similarities.


Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr blesses the Holy Land educators. (CT/Mark Bowen)

“It’s been great. More than I expected. I feel very happy at home here with my brothers and sisters,” said Ruya Wahba, an English teacher in Nablus, referring to her American colleagues.


“I want to know more about you before I teach someone about you,” said chemistry teacher Rogeece Qumsieh. She added that television programs don’t provide accurate depictions of Americans.


“We don’t know anything about each other,” she said, noting that American families “are just like Arab” families.


The teachers are all Christians and teach in Catholic schools of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Jerusalem. Six of them are from the West Bank (Palestine), two are from Galilee (Israel) and four are from Jordan. Their visit was sponsored by HOPE, which stands for Holy Land Outreach to Palestinian Educators. Its goal is to educate children and teachers here about life in the Middle East where families often face the threat of violence.


While here, the teachers established the foundations for twinning relationships with Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Andrew/St. Elizabeth Ann Seton elementary schools. Some of the teachers visited Xavier University, Archbishop Moeller and St. Xavier high schools and St. Antoninus School. They also made a presentation before the Ohio Catholic Educators Association.


“We want people to know we live there not very comfortably, that we have some problems. We don’t want to leave our country,” said Wahba.


She added, “The world doesn’t know our story. We came here to share our story.”


Waseim Kasabre of Beit Jala said, “We need help to get the occupation out of our country.”


The teachers were formally welcomed Oct. 2 at a Mass at St. Andrew Parish in Milford that was live-streamed so their families at home in the Middle East could watch it. At the urging of Father Rob Waller, pastor, the congregation greeted the teachers with “ahlan wa sahlan,” which means “you are welcome” in Arabic. The Mass was concelebrated by Jesuit Father Ben Urmston, who oversees the peace and justice programs at Xavier University.


St. Andrew has had a special relationship with the project since 2003 when five eighth graders from Beit Jala visited the archdiocese as part of the Children’s Peace Program. HOPE grew out of that program, and last year, a group of 13 local teachers and administrators visited the Holy Land and were paired with Palestinian counterparts. Some of those same teachers were on this trip to Cincinnati.


Their visit was coordinated by Nancy Hemminger, a parishioner at St. Andrew who has long been involved in efforts to help Palestinian children dealing with post-traumatic stress.


The HOPE group poses for a picture at the offices of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. (CT/Mark Bowen)

The welcome Mass was followed by a luncheon during which four of the educators explained how they teach both Christian and Muslim children in their Catholic schools. They also talked about Israeli checkpoints, settlements and the Apartheid Wall that separates the Palestinians and the Israelis as obstacles that prevent them from fulfilling their mission as teachers. They also shared pictures of their classrooms, including a computer room where Iman Amr, who teaches Arabic,  said in addition to their computer studies, “the students love Facebook.”


Though their visit had a definite purpose, the teachers did manage to have some fun. They say they were overwhelmed by the warm welcome they received from the day they arrived to the day they left.


Bassma Khell, an educational counselor from Galilee, commented on the houses she’s seen, which she described as beautiful and colorful. She was also surprised by all the trees. She says everyone is, “so kind and so friendly.” 


The climate took some getting used to. Not only has she met American teachers, she has made some new friends from her own part of the world. “I didn’t know anyone from Jordan,” she said.


The teachers’ taste of Americana was definitely Cincinnati-style, with stops at Graeter’s and Gold Star Chili. The chili restaurant was started by four brothers from Jordan. Suhail Khoury, a school principal from Jordan, said the men are relatives of his. Khoury said he loved the chili and looked forward to also visiting KFC.


Their trip also included a visit to the archdiocesan Central Offices for a meeting with Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr and various staff members, including Mike Gable, director of the archdiocesan Mission Office, and Jim Rigg, director of educational services and superintendent of Catholic schools. The group thanked the archbishop for the archdiocese’s support of HOPE. In turn, he noted it is through their efforts to share their faith that others will find “peace, joy and fullness of life.”


Archbishop Schnurr then blessed the educators, and aware of his devotion to Mary, they sang Ave Maria in Arabic. They then presented the archbishop, Gable, Rigg and Father David Sunberg, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, with gifts from the Holy Land.


“My heart is with you,” Father Sunberg told the educators. “Thank you so much for your presence here and your work on behalf of Catholic education.”  

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