Monday, September 20, 2004
Mideast children visit
Palestinian Christians spend a month with host families
By Karen Vance
MOUNT HEALTHY - Six Palestinian Christian students and their teacher were greeted this week in Mount Healthy with prayers for peace in their homeland.
The five eighth-grade students and one fifth-grader are spending a little more than a month with students from Church of the Assumption parish school. They're visiting the United States through the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation and will attend a conference in Washington, D.C., when they leave Cincinnati.
Julia Wiethorn, 13, a student at Assumption Catholic School, goes over some reading assignments with Firas Shomalie, 13, a Palestinian Christian who is spending 4 weeks at the school.
(Enquirer photo/TONY JONES)
"We come to share a message from Palestinian children, to show that we want peace. We don't want war," said George Mashriqi, 13. "We come to say wake up, please. We need peace in Palestine because it's a hard situation, a hard life."
Less than 2 percent of the population of Israel is Christian, down from 18 percent in 1948. Many of the Christians, like the students visiting here, live in Palestine and are subject to checkpoints and other strict security measures.
"It takes 10 to 15 minutes to get from Beit Sahour, where I live, to Ramallah (where fellow students George Qasabri and Angi Nasser live), but with the checkpoints, that's two to three hours," said Firas Schomali, 13. "I have never seen Jerusalem yet, and it is the capital of my country."
The students at Assumption welcomed the children Friday with a prayer service. In the service, there was much talk about peace. They closed with the song, "Companions on the Journey," singing about shared hope and belief in the love of God.
Several students are hosting the children, while others look forward to learning from them in the classroom.
"I want to know what it's really like in Palestine, not just the bad things you see on the news," said Michael Huff, 13.
But it's also important to them to share things the Palestinian children are not exposed to, such as American television, Huff said.
"We're just so delighted that they're here. We've prayed hard and we've prayed long for their safe arrival," said Sister Marietta Sharkey, director of religious education for the parish. "We hope to share our hearts and make life-long friends."
The Palestinian children will also be sharing their story with classes at La Salle and McAuley high schools.
But as much as the Palestinian students want their counterparts at Assumption to understand them, they also want to know Americans better.
"It's a good opportunity for them to come here and share the culture here, to know more about Americans, that they're peaceful people like us, to get to know English better and to be friends," said Suhair Khoury, the group's teacher, who also brought her fifth-grade daughter, Raneen on the trip.
While in town, the students will visit the convent of the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, Ind, attend a Mount Healthy City Council meeting and, along with their eighth-grade classmates, take a field trip to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
While they are different in many ways, the children know their Christian faith gives them common ground.
"We love to celebrate festivals like Christmas and Easter and spend time with our relatives," said Marianna Schomali, 13, Firas's cousin.
And in just a few days, Firas has already seen the most important thing both groups of children share: "Our love," he said with a big smile.
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