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According to Father Guido, the most urgent problem in the area is the lack of work. Unemployment saps the self-esteem of the individual, particularly when the breadwinner is the father of the family who finds himself unable to provide. And this is also the more acute in a society like Palestine’s, which is highly traditional and patriarchal.

Many formerly middle-class families in the Bethlehem area are newly poor after more than a year of unemployment, but they are ashamed to ask for help. This situation also presents a major problem for the area’s churches: They are criticized for not doing enough to help, yet the people won’t ask for assistance. Until tourism returns to the area, the plight of these families will only worsen.

The daily stress of living with violence and the related economic woes have generated new problems of their own: As social structures break down in the villages and cities, domestic violence now is on the rise.

With hundreds killed and thousands wounded, and a significant number of homes destroyed since October 2000, relief agencies have been struggling to provide for the new and urgent needs of those affected, while at the same time trying to carry on their long-term assistance work.

But amid the shattering violence and destruction pockmarking Bethlehem and its neighboring villages, there are glimmers of hope. Thanks to the perseverance of numerous agencies and individuals working in and around Bethlehem, social services continue and new programs are developing.

Shortly after the crisis erupted last year, CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, organized systematic communications among the various agencies. A weekly information list of activities and persons is circulated, while monthly meetings of the directors ensure coordination of aid distribution and avoidance of unnecessary overlap.

Today the government of Italy has sent aid to Bethlehem, and this means Diana has a truckload of rice to distribute. When a family has been unable to buy food for days, a 10-pound bag of rice provides some relief, but certainly is just a small start.

Cash assistance is another form of aid, and does double duty to help two households: When no work is available and a family receives cash, they can then buy food from a local merchant. That means he works and receives revenue for his goods, and thus maintains his own dignity and is able to provide for his family.

The Pontifical Mission has been able to launch and fund labor-intensive community projects. These not only provide work for the unemployed but benefit the community as well.

Local facilities provide work materials and the project’s funds pay a just wage to laborers. Work projects are coordinated with local agencies such as the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Caritas International and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Many of the projects sponsored by the Pontifical Mission for Palestine are made possible by help from key Catholic aid agencies around the globe – Misereor, Missio, Kinderhilfe Bethlehem and the Archdiocese of Cologne, as well as the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

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Tags: CNEWA War Bethlehem Funding Father Guido Gockel