Parishes across Rhode Island helping Christians facing persecution in Bethlehem

Parishes across Rhode Island helping Christians facing persecution in Bethlehem

Catholic parishes in Rhode Island, including Sacred Heart in West Warwick, are raising awareness about a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to helping Christians who have been struggling in Bethlehem. (WJAR)

Catholic parishes in Rhode Island are raising awareness about a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to helping Christians who have been struggling to stay alive in Bethlehem.

Sary Awwad was born in Bethlehem and now lives in Cranston. He is a volunteer for Land of Peace.

“I help every now and then,” he told NBC 10 News during an interview Monday.

Sary Awwad, who was born in Bethlehem and now lives in Cranston, is a volunteer for Land of Peace. (WJAR)

Based in Michigan and established in 2012, Land of Peace provides support to churches and individuals in need, with a goal to establish a charity hospital near Bethlehem for poor and sick Christians.

Awwad said he shares the mission in the Ocean State by visiting churches, where he sells handmade carvings.

Each piece has been crafted by a Christian artisan in Bethlehem, which is the biblical birthplace of Jesus Christ.

“They send me the product to sell so we can help our brothers and sister back in the Holy Land,” Awwad said. “Then, I send them the money.”

The items are made from olive wood and feature depictions such as The Last Supper and The Nativity Scene.

There are also rosary beads, both large and small, small crosses, bracelets, ornaments, along with religious figures and more.

“This organization works directly with people who make the product,” Awwad said.

The Last Supper (WJAR)

Noel Alshomali is the CEO of Land of Peace. He said the number of Christians living in Bethlehem has dwindled year after year.

“It just keeps going down,” he told NBC 10. “In 1920, the population was over 70 percent. Today, the Christian population is less 2 percent — 1.7. Most of the Christians have left the county because they are persecuted or suffering. There is no government to support them. It’s very hard for them to find the right job and they don’t have any source of income. It’s also very hard to practice their faith.”

Since they don’t have any rights or freedom, he said they often opt to leave the country.

“What’s going to happen in 30 years? Will Christians still be living over there? There is a big question as to what is going to happen to the Christian population,” Alshomali said.

Awwad shared similar sentiments. He said there continues to be lot of discrimination against Christians there.

“We’re a minority,” he said. “And for me, coming from a religious background, I know how important it is to maintain the Christian presence in the land where Jesus was born. At this moment, there is a worry that these places are being left with no Christians.”

Awwad said because there are fewer and fewer Christians, he fears holy sites will become abandoned.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand how they can be taken over and converted to something else,” he said, also describing the Palestinian authority as corrupt.

“They have funds coming in from other countries but not propagating it properly,” he added. “Every year I go, I see the situation has gotten worse and worse. It’s not like America; it’s not developed. There’s not really any manufacturing going on and there’s no agriculture. People are stressed, so they make these handy crafts and they sell it to tourists.”

Based in Michigan and established in 2012, Land of Peace provides support to churches and individuals in need. (WJAR)

Plus, Awwad said, there have been economic impacts due to the coronavirus pandemic, as the Holy Land is also a tourist destination, with the season peaking during Christmastime.

Travel restrictions have been limited since March 2020, with the artisans losing their income.

“With COVID, there were no tourists at all,” Awwad said. “They have been suffering. If there are no tourists, nobody’s working, so it’s been tough on them.”

Alshomali agreed, but he said that the Christian population in Bethlehem is dying from poverty and hunger, not COVID-19.

“Eighty percent of Christians are struggling because they have no income,” he said.

That’s why Alshomali said Land of Peace connects with parishes across the United States. He said 25 to 35 parishes in Rhode Island annually help sell the handmade items.

“We have a very important message to deliver because not everyone knows what is going on over there,” Alshomali said. “Christians are struggling every day.”

To help, Awwad recently visited Sacred Heart Church in West Warwick and spoke following Mass, announcing that he’d be in the parish hall with the carvings and raising funds.

Glenn Amore and his wife, Aida, and their daughter, Diana, 4, were there. Glenn purchased a crucifix, saying he’s happy knowing it is for a good cause.

“We want to help the Christians in the Holy Land because there’s hardly any left,” he said.

Going forward, Alshomali said they hope to build a hospital in Bethlehem to help people in need.

But, he said, land is pricey, as it is between $1.5 million to $2 million.

“We hope we can find a donor to help us buy the land to build the charity hospital,” he said. “This is our goal.”

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