Catholic schools in US, Holy Land create pen-pal program

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As a sign of solidarity with Catholics in the Middle East, the National Council of Catholic Women has set up a pen-pal exchange pairing Catholic schools in the United States with those in the Holy Land.

"We determined that a very effective way to assure them that we know and care about them and pray for them is to begin a program with our USA Catholic schools and their Franciscan schools in the Holy Land," said NCCW President Maribeth Stewart.

The first schools to participate are Saint Lawrence School, a pre-K-8 school in West Haven, Connecticut and Terra Sancta College in Bethlehem, which serves preschool through high school students. The grade school students will be the first to take part in the program.

The Holy Land Project has started with younger children exchanging drawings and older students exchanging letters. According to the council, the students have been excited to learn from each other's culture and explore similar point of interests, like sports, hobbies, family, and faith.

"The students will share this experience with their families and friends and this will help reassure them that we indeed think of and pray for our sisters and brothers in that ancient troubled land," said Stewart.

The National Council of Catholic Women said the exchange began after women in the Holy Land requested a project to educate U.S. Catholics on the hardships their brothers and sisters face in the Holy Land.

The hardships include discrimination in the job market, confiscation of property, and difficulty in obtaining travel passes to Jerusalem from nearby places such as Bethlehem, the council said, noting the diminishing presence of Catholics in the Holy Land.

"As they told us, in Bethlehem going to Jerusalem is a dream for most of them," said Stewart.

The women's council expressed hope that the project will expand to include more grades and more schools as the project develops.

Founded in 1920, the National Council of Catholic Women was developed by the bishops who witnessed the important work of Catholic women's organizations during World War I. The goal was to strengthen the voice and resources of Catholic women by uniting various organizations.

Today, the council works "to support, empower, and educate all Catholic women in spirituality, leadership, and service."

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