Recently, Sister Anne Powell received a letter from Br Peter Bray FSC, the Vice-Chancellor of Bethlehem University in Palestine, a Catholic University and the first university founded in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. Br Peter is a friend of the Cenacle sisters and a New Zealander. He sent Anne this letter, which gives a small insight into his life and what consumes his time and heart. Sr Anne was keen for us to share Peter's letter as it is helpful for people to understand what life is like for Palestinian people.
The first paragraph is about the Cenacle's regular practice of praying for peace every Friday; they pray a Jewish prayer, a Muslim prayer and a prayer from Pope Francis. This practice is catching on and if you, too, would like to make this part of your regular prayer life, you can find the prayers to use by clicking here.
You might also be interested to read the University's Spring bulletin here.
From Br Peter Bray FSC
To Anne Powell rc, Aotearoa Cenacle
15 December 2021
Greetings from Jerusalem
Greetings and thank you for your very supportive e-mail. I think one of the very important things for our Palestinian students, as well as for adults, is to know they are not forgotten! I have spoken to many people both here and abroad, about what you are doing and there are now several places around the world where people are choosing to do the same. During my recent visit to San Diego I told the story of your efforts to be in solidarity with the Palestinians and after the gathering, a couple came up to me and told me they had decided they would do the same on Fridays! So, thank you for continuing to do that. Unfortunately, Clemens is no longer able to walk with us, but she keeps telling us she prays in solidarity with us as we walk up and down. She is an amazingly inspiring person to know and engage with.
I write to you from the Brothers' place in New Gate in Jerusalem where I am quarantined for 72 hours. I have to be near where my official residence is and that is at the Patriarchate because my residency visa is for Israel not for Palestine. I have just returned from my first trip outside Palestine since I arrived back from New Zealand in February 2020! The main focus was to reconnect with Palestinian donors in Chile but I spent a few days on the west coast of the USA on the way down. With the new regulations the Israelis have introduced, no foreigners are allowed in and only Israeli citizens and residents can come. I had to take a test at the airport when I arrived at 9:27am on Monday and I have to have another negative test at the end of the 72 hours of quarantine to get out. I found out yesterday that Israel is monitoring particularly those who are residents and I heard of one person who came in last week and on the third day was contacted to check where he was. I am not prepared to run the risk of being caught ignoring health-related issues and possibly having my visa withdrawn, so I am staying here until Thursday morning when the 72 hours is completed.
My trip to Chile via the USA was good, but the trip back was tiring. It is the first time I have come straight through which meant over 23 hours in the air plus layovers in Houston and New York. The three previous trips I have made to Chile, have all. been before a Foundation Board meeting in Washington, so I had at least a break there. On the way down I called to see several donors on the west coast of the USA and after celebrating Thanksgiving with Frank Jungers, he decided to give us $500,000! So while I really enjoyed the chance to share the time with Julie and Frank, and they seemed to enjoy the evening as well, it was worth the trip to Portland to receive that gift! I also received promises from others. There was also the chance to visit the University of San Diego where I did my study and that brought back many wonderful memories. I took the chance while there to meet with the Dean of Nursing and the Dean of the School of Leadership and Educational Sciences. Both of these are keen to establish connections with Bethlehem University.
On 1 December I flew to Santiago via Houston and met up with Dalia, our Director of Advancement, who as a Palestinian, had to fly out of Amman. She had made arrangements for us to meet with a variety of people, some of whom I had connected with before and some others who were new to me. I found very positive and engaged people who are keen to stay connected with Palestine and Bethlehem University. Dalia and I gave presentations to probably over a hundred people who had come to the Palestino Club on Tuesday evening. That proved to be another very engaging evening with many people wanting to understand more and to consider ways to support us. We received two commitments of $30,000 and $20,000 and then four other people who said they would give but needed to work out with other people in their organisations how much that would be.
What I was particularly interested in and pleased about was the response we received from the Rector of the Catholic University of Chile. We met with the Rector, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, and the Executive Director of the Vice Presidency for International Affairs. I had three things to ask the Rector and he responded positively to all. I wanted to restart the visit of four of our Nursing students to his University in our summer each year for six weeks. I had signed an MOU with him some years back and we sent students for several summers. However, last year it stopped because of COVID and we did not send any this year. He has agreed to restart it next July, which is a great move. I also wanted to explore the possibility of our faculty becoming engaged in joint research projects and he is open to that. The third request was to provide higher qualifications for some of our faculty and some graduates who could come back and teach with us. He again was very pleased to explore that some more. He is prepared to waive all tuition costs, but we would have to make arrangements for accommodation and travel etc. I then approached the Bethlehem 2000 Foundation, which is based in Santiago and has been funding the students going there, and they are prepared to again cover the costs for the students and explore covering the costs for a faculty member or graduate doing study there. There is still a lot to be done to get everything in place, but it was a good start.
I will be back at Bethlehem University tomorrow and for the week before Christmas, so I am looking forward to another Christmas in Bethlehem!
To put it mildly, the past two years have been challenging, but I am amazed at the way the students are settling into life on campus again when we started face-to-face classes at the beginning of this academic year in September. It is such a joy to have them back and to hear them so pleased to be with one another again. I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to be here and to be able to use what skills and influence I have to make it possible for our students to get the best education available. The whole-university review that has been underway for over a year now is gradually showing signs that it will improve the quality of what we are doing in a significant way, but it will take some time to embed the changes given so many people are not keen on change!!
This is getting too long, so I will close!
I will be thinking of you and praying for you as we celebrate Christmas here where it all began! I pray that you are able to celebrate in a suitable way the fact of God coming amongst us here in Bethlehem, but also continuing to do so at every moment.
Best wishes and thanks for your wonderful support for our mission here.