by Myriam Ambroselli, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
JERUSALEM – On Saturday May 7, 2016, the Sisters of St. Dorothy welcomed former students of their boarding school and their school of arts and crafts, which they used to run in Deir Rafat. A Mass, under the theme of Year of Mercy, was celebrated on this occasion by Bishop William Shomali.
In her testimony written in Italian, Sister Estella Fano explains how between 1927 and 2009, for nearly 80 years, St. Dorothy Sisters worked at Deir Rafat, which houses the shrine of Our Lady of Palestine near Bet Shemesh, an orphanage and a school of arts and crafts. The compound where many Palestinian children placed under the wings of social services, have grown under good care, has survived wars (WWII, the Gulf War) and the consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, meaning the two intifadas (uprisings).
A house, where children have grown in security and in motherly love offered by the Sisters, as the Latin Patriarch at that time, His Beatitude Luigi Barlassina, wished it so on its opening back in 1927. The latter had asked the sisters to “become mothers to all those orphans”.
After WWII and restoration works, the compound became in 1975 St. Mary’s School, a boarding school, called to foster many children of the area, Arabs and Bedouins, Christians of different denominations (Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox or Latin) but also Muslims. During nearly 30 years, until 2004, the school became for these children a place of co-existence and human and spiritual growth. Since then, the compound was entrusted to the Community of Sisters of Bethlehem, of the Assumption, of St. Bruno. Each year there is the traditional pilgrimage to Our Lady of Palestine, the house remained a place of worship and hospitality.
Each year, former female students of St. Mary’s School happily meet around St. Dorothy Sisters who for them were excellent teachers and genuine “mothers”. All in all 80 persons, coming mostly from Galilee, gathered at the house of the Sisters in Jerusalem for a festive day where nostalgia of childhood days mixed with the joy of the meeting. On his occasion, Bishop Shomali celebrated Mass, under the theme of Jubilee Year of Mercy. In his homily, the Patriarchal Vicar came back on the importance of forgiving “a gift that comes from high above and which is not instinctive”. Quoting Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 18, of the servant pardoned for his debts but showing unforgiveness to meet his brother in debt, Bishop Shomali called on the faithful, like Pope Francis, to become beings of mercy “because mercy was rendered to us first” (Misericordiae Vultus, 9).