Bethlehem Orphans Suffer From Lack of Pilgrims to Holy Land

Catholic Institution Depends on Donations

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BETHLEHEM, JAN. 15, 2001 (
The children of the orphanage of the Sisters of Charity in Jesus´ birthplace, Bethlehem, are suffering the consequences of the lack of pilgrims, caused by the outbreak of violence in the Holy Land.

The majority are illegitimate children rejected by Palestinian families, who give them to the nuns so as not to have to cope with the «shame» of a pregnant daughter.

«La Crèche,» as the orphanage is known, has been helping orphans for over a century, thanks to donations from pilgrims coming to Bethlehem, who are housed in the building.

Sister Sophie Boudri, one of the directors of the orphanage, said: «These months of confrontations and the closing of the Palestinian territories have blocked the flow of pilgrims who came to visit us. We cannot survive without them.»

This is the reason Sister Sophie has launched an appeal for aid, through the pages of the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire.

Sister Sophie held Ahmed in her arms as she spoke. «This child has parents, but his family is extremely poor and cannot buy the expensive treatments he needs,» she said. «Every month we have to give him a gamma globulin injection that costs $500. He must eat foods with high nutritional value. Moreover, during this period, some families have remained destitute and they come to ask us for milk and help.»

The Sisters of Charity face another problem too.

«With every right, the Ecclesiastical Court attempts to have proof that the children are Christians,» Sister Sophie said. «However, Islam prohibits the adoption of illegitimate children, who have no social recognition, no right to bear a name, and are excluded from inheritance, and condemned to marginalization.» Hence, the possibility of La Crèche giving these children up for adoption, especially to foreigners, is extremely complicated.

The 80 orphans cared for by the nuns, many of whom are Palestinians (Sister Sophie herself is Lebanese), have suffered desperate situations. Their mothers have often sought refugee in the nuns´ house to give birth secretly and avoid being killed by their fathers or brothers, in the name of an unwritten law of honor. «Last year we saved 23 girls,» Sister Sophie said.

Other children are entrusted to the Sisters by the Social Services of the Palestinian Authority. Said the director of social affairs, Diana Mubarak: «We do not have the structures; in such cases we go to the nuns of Bethlehem.»

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