The Boy's Home: a family even in the times of a pandemic | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

The Boy's Home: a family even in the times of a pandemic

"I found a family again with the welcome and goodness, the real goodness that is reserved for those who love.” This is how Fr. Sandro Tomašević comments on his return to Bethlehem after some years of service as deputy parish priest of the parish of St Saviour, in the Old City of Jerusalem. He has now been destined to a particular service, as he is the new head of the Boy's Home.

Arising from the need to answer the silent cry of youngsters in difficult family situations, the Boy's Home, on the eve of its fourteenth year of activity, offers both residential and non-residential care for children and teenagers from 6 to 18 years of age, to give them a valid alternative to an everyday life often fraught with difficulties. Despite the pandemic and the regulations due to COVID-19, nine youngsters live permanently at the House and they are joined by between twenty and thirty children who attend it during the day.

The project is based on an idea of the present-day parish priest of St Saviour in Jerusalem, Fr. Amjad Sabbara, who on his annual round of blessing the homes of his parishioners, had noted some situations which required help: some children had to reckon with their parents’ divorce, others faced problems of substance addiction in the family, to cases of domestic violence of various kinds.

Originally, the idea was a simple after-school club, so that children could study in an environment other than their own homes with precise objectives: to highlight the need to create personal projects but also to believe in the possibility of having a prosperous future. Shortly after it was started, Fr. Amjad was moved and he was replaced by Fr. Marwan Di'ides, who decided to link this project with the school of which he was already the head. With the consent of the then Custos, His beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa, it became a residential project supported by the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land. From then on, the youngsters started to live there from Monday to Saturday afternoon, exactly as though it were their home.

"Each passage in our Franciscan life is a challenge," said Fr. Sandro. "We do not have a sedentary life, so going back again to Bethlehem after a few years did not frighten me. Here I found a family again, with the welcome and goodness that is reserved to those who love." Even though Covid-19 has required different safety regulations, life in the Boy's Home continues with Fr. Tomašević almost as in ordinary times: there are various activities for the youngsters who live there, such as sport, walks, but also meetings with other local bodies, such as the Biblical Society and the French Boy's Home.

Recently there has been an inauguration, under the impetus of the previous head of the Home, Fr. Emad Rofael: the Chapel was renovated, with paintings by the local artist Antonios Aoun, entitled “the celestial family”. “Before it was a multi-purpose room,” Fr. Sandro said, “the youngsters would use it for study or meetings, while now it is exclusively to be used as a chapel for prayer and Mass. Speaking of families, I want to recall that in my opinion the existence of this place is fundamental because it is from here that we take the strength to be a family.”

Recently, the Facebook page has been started in Arabic: on this page, it is above all the educational meetings offered to the youngsters that are posted. "We have to work on how always to be an example,” Fr. Sandro concludes, "but living here is not only study: a lot of affection and a lot of love have to be given, and often these are lacking!”

Giovanni Malaspina