The first Catholic pastoral centre caring for migrant workers in Israel has been opened by the leader of the Holy Land’s Catholics. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, celebrated a pontifical Mass to launch of the pastoral centre, located in the south of the capital Tel Aviv.
Our Lady of Valour Pastoral Centre serves Catholic migrants, including workers from the Philippines, India and Sri Lanka, as well as asylum seekers from Sub-Saharan Africa. More than 40,000 Filipinos work in Israel on fixed-term contracts.
The Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, and the Filipino Ambassador to Israel, Generoso D. G. Calonge, were among those attending the formal opening of the centre on Saturday 26th April. Last year the UK office of Aid to the Church in Need provided more than £80,000 towards this key pastoral initiative, in response to an urgent request to help Catholic migrants keep the Faith and pass it on to their children – 150 young Christians are being taught catechism at the centre.
At the opening Patriarch Twal thanked the charity for supporting the project: “I wish the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need could be here to share the people’s joy at the new centre. I thank all donors from my heart on their behalf. May God bless them.”
Fr David Neuhaus SJ, co-ordinator of migrants’ pastoral care for the Latin Patriarchate, explained that the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, which had been dominated by Arabic-speaking Palestinian Christians, was becoming more diverse. He said: “The migrants are making the Christian presence more complex since many of them come from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe and live within the Israeli-Jewish, Hebrew-speaking society. Although they remain on the margins of this society, they identify with it and their children grow up speaking Hebrew. “The Church is now called upon to establish itself where it previously had no presence – in the Jewish quarter where the migrants live, in the heart of Israeli-Jewish society.”
The number of migrant workers has increased sharply since 2,000. Following the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, most Palestinians who had been employed in Israel were no longer granted work permits. Many of the jobs they performed previously have now been taken over by migrant workers. One migrant worker at the inauguration ceremony, Lourdes, a nurse from the Philippines, told ACN:
“For us the centre is home. Here we meet our compatriots and we can pray. I’m happy we have it.” Fr David Neuhaus added: “It would have been impossible to found the Our Lady of Valour Pastoral Centre without the generous help of various charities including, as always, Aid to the Church in Need. Aid to the Church in Need has accompanied the development of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic Church in Israel very closely and is now also helping the migrants. We are particularly grateful to Aid to the Church in Need and pray for all benefactors.”