By Karen Vance
MILFORD - Mary Attallah Abu Ghattas likes music and dancing. She also dreams of peace.
On Sunday, the eighth-grader and four of her classmates from the Patriarchate (Roman Catholic) School in Beit Jala, Israel, a predominately Christian city of 8,000 people, near Bethlehem, introduced themselves to members of St. Andrew Catholic Church in Milford.
"I want to ask you to pray for peace for my home, which has been deprived of peace for so long," Ghattas said.
At the open house, the students, their teacher, Rana Qustandi Nicola Qaabar, and school director Sholine Botto gave brief presentations about their city, their home life and their church.
Today, the students - Ghattas, Tamara Nabeel Abd Nour, Issa Victor Hafiry, Raneem Joseph Hanania and Tamer Hanna Zu'mot - will attend classes with their eighth-grade counterparts.
"Our main goal is to try to keep things as normal as possible so they can get a sense of what school is like here," said Julie Poux, a teacher at St. Andrew who coordinated the school's participation in the visit.
Peace was a recurring theme at the open house Sunday. The students, both from Beit Jala and Milford, led the crowd in a prayer for peace in the Holy Land and sang "Let There be Peace on Earth."
The presentation brought lifelong St. Andrew parishioner Peg Hermon to tears.
"I'm proud to be a part of this," she said. "I really hope something like this can be a bridge to peace and stop the fighting over there. We're all children of God. This may be a beginning."
The parish first got involved with the Beit Jala school a few years ago when it began sponsoring students there through the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation.
The foundation is a non-profit organization headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area committed to improving the lives of Christians in Israel and Palestine.
During their five-week stay in the U.S., the students and their Milford counterparts will travel to Washington, D.C. to address the foundation's annual conference.
Botto said she thinks her students' visit to the United States will be a life-changing experience.
"I think this will make them understand somebody out there loves them and cares about their future," Botto said.
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