Father Sharbel Issa discusses the program implemented by the Church of Our Lady of the Shepherds in Beit Sahour, Palestine, in 2020, in support of needy families during the Coronavirus pandemic:
There was an initiative in Beit Sahour to distribute food aid to disadvantaged families and to young families, that is newly married couples who weren’t able to secure what they needed before the country shut down. To be sure, the Church was able to undertake this initiative because it is a trusted institution, especially through the Youth Movement of Beit Sahour and the young people working there. So, all the aid coming to Beit Sahour from outside comes through the Church of Our Lady of the Shepherds and then we distribute it to those who need it without exception, which means both to the Christian and Muslim communities.
On the partners who helped in the implementation of the program:
All the institutions active in Beit Sahour cooperated, deciding to stand together, especially that there was a pandemic going on. Beit Sahour is known as a city of Christian and Muslim coexistence. It is a model for the single, united, and cooperative Palestinian society.
On the obstacles they faced in cooperating with other parties:
They weren’t difficulties so much as small problems, such as for example each organization would submit a list of needy people or those who seemed like they were in need, but we would see that the number of people on the list was huge while the amount of foodstuff we had on hand was limited. Which meant that we wouldn’t be able to distribute aid to everyone on the list, and so we’d choose twenty from this list and twenty from that one, and then when the next batch of aid arrived, we’d go back and try to finish up all the lists submitted by each organization. As for outside obstacles, these had to do with the transfer of financial aid from abroad, because some countries have sanctions against the transfer of money to Palestine and other countries.
On the positives of cooperating with multiple parties:
The positives were evident in the level of solidarity among all the institutions and the institutional and social work everyone took on during the Coronavirus pandemic. Also in the bond of trust that existed between the people and the institutions, whether the Church organizations or Islamic institutions or municipal or civil society organizations.
On the project’s impact on people’s ways of thinking:
What I witnessed, and what moved me greatly, was that we are one people, and our pain is all the same. We are a people working on a united goal, which is to live a dignified life, and through that life to truly find God. This was what had the biggest impact on me personally, in terms of the specific character of this society, because charity work doesn’t discriminate.
On how this collaborative experience might change the way the Church approaches its charitable activities:
The aid that was given to a private Church was distributed on a city-wide scale and not just a private one. Usually, the Islamic charity organization works for the Muslim community and the Churches work for the sake of the Christian community, but during this period things changed, so that there will be cooperation between these institutions over the course of the whole year.