Local nonprofit extends olive branch to Holy Land

Tim Keenan | Special to The Michigan Catholic

Sterling Heights — Largely forgotten in the struggle between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East is the plight of Palestinian Christians, who account for as much as 10 percent of the Palestinian population and are descendants of the first Christians.

One organization that has not forgotten is Sterling Heights-based Land of Peace, a nonprofit whose mission it is to help and support the Holy Land Christians and also the Bethlehem Arab Society of Rehabilitation. Its main goal is to establish a charity hospital near Bethlehem for poor and sick Christians.

“There are many families in the Holy Land that are suffering greatly and truly struggling to survive,” said Noel Alshomali, one of the group’s directors. “There are the sick, the handicapped and the poor who without the assistance of our organization would either cease to survive or leave the Holy Land in search of other opportunities.”

Fr. Joseph Esper, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Ira Township, has been a frequent visitor to the Holy Land and was asked by Alshomali to join his board of directors.

“It’s not an easy thing to be a Christian in the Holy Land these days,” said Fr. Esper, acknowledging the irony of his statement.

Alshomali, a 38-year-old local business owner who came to the U.S. from the Holy Land in 2000, acknowledges the difficulty of his group’s mission, but he is undeterred. “Our mission is great and one that will not be without much prayer, hard work and dedication,” he said. “It is our continued wish that the support we give will extend to countless Christians in need. We hope and pray to do work that serves to strengthen their hope and faith and that this extends far into the future generations of Christians to come.”

Land of Peace was founded in May of last year as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit by Palestinian Christians as a way of helping their fellow Christians achieve a standard of living that will enable them to remain in places such as Bethlehem. The group, chaired by the Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Cardinal Twal, believes the chances for peace between the Christian, Muslim and Jewish people of the Middle East will be all the more possible when all are economically viable.

In addition to the hospital project, Land of Peace provides affordable quality medical services in the West Bank, supports families with special needs, offers scholarships to students and vocational skills and job opportunities for adults.

Land of Peace works together with another Palestinian Catholic group, Jerusalem Christian Families, to bring religious items created by people in the Holy Land for sale here in order to raise funds for the hospital project.

“We do this in lieu of a second collection so as not to create discomfort to a parish, but also to create a means of support to the struggling families who rely on our help and assistance to survive,” said Alshomali, who added that 40 percent of the profit from the sale of these items goes directly to the families that created the items. Twenty percent goes to the patriarchate of Jerusalem for his charitable work, 20 percent is earmarked for the hospital and the reaming 20 percent covers administrative costs.

Among the items for sale are olive wood crosses, rosaries, nativity sets, jewelry, clothes and tablecloths ranging in price from $3 to $1,500.

According to Alshomali, the group has raised $50,000 so far, but needs close to $30 million to establish the hospital near Jesus’ birthplace.

“When you try to do something in the service of God’s people,” said Fr. Esper of the seemingly high fundraising mountain Land of Peace is climbing, “there’s always hope.”

Tim Keenan is a freelance writer based in Farmington Hills.