And he took a little child, and set him in the midst of them: and taking him in his arms, he said unto them “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but
him who sent me” (Mk 9:36-7). Children are central to our Christian faith, for they are the future of the Church.
Likewise, central to the work of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and its 180,000 Catholic faithful are the summer camps it organises each year for their children. This year around 6,000 children and young people will be taking part from 36 of the 55 parishes in the patriarchate. The 2-4 week courses in Israel, Jordan and the autonomous Palestinian territories are run by priests, youth leaders and catechists. The programme includes sport, theatre, painting and art, community service, religion lessons and of course, time to pray together and celebrate Holy Mass. And there are also excursions to the places where Jesus taught and prayed in the Holy Land.
Many of the families however, above all in the Palestinian territories, simply cannot afford to pay for the two or more weeks stay for their children, and so there are subsidies available to help them.
The truth is, the experience these young people enjoy in the summer camps is beyond price. The 150 children aged between 4 and 14 from the Gaza Strip will learn, for example, that there are other children like them throughout the region and that in Israel there are also Christian families striving to live in peace and friendship with everyone around them. They will learn that happiness and security are not something to yearn for in the future, but that peace of heart is something that is truly possible, here and now.
The same is true for the 60 children from Nazareth and for the 80 five to twelve-yearolds from Smakiyeh in Jordan. Whether in Letting children be children in the Holy Land the handicraft sessions or the theatre rehearsals, they will learn that patience and perseverance are needed in order to succeed, and that while playing basketball and football, we need to apologise after a foul or a push and generally be ready to bear with one another, to pardon and forgive. This way, the children learn, through play, to see one another through the eyes of Christ, who embraces every child in love. Learning this is the basis for peace. The patriarchate is investing a great deal in these crucially important summer camps – and we are supporting them with €30,000. For Jesus himself said: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them. For to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mk 10:14).