The Archbishop of Liverpool, Patrick Kelly, blessed and opened a youth centre in Nablus on Sunday 9 January, funded by Catholics from Liverpool and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. The youth centre, which will serve young people from across the city, has been built next to the parish church of St Justin in Rafidia, a northern suburb of Nablus. St Justin is twinned with St Oswald and St Cecilia in Liverpool and has seen exchanges of parishioners in recent years.
Fr Johnny Abu-Khalil, the parish priest of St Justin, welcomed representatives of the Holy Land Co-ordination, including Fr Mark Madden, parish priest of St Oswald and St Cecilia.
'It is an honour to welcome you all today,' said Fr Abu-Khalil. 'We have two bishops: the Patriarch Archbishop Faoud Twal and Archbishop Patrick Kelly. This youth centre is an important step in halting emigration and will help young people stay in Palestine. It is an exemplary project, offering a model of co-operation that should be duplicated across the Palestinian territories. It is the only youth centre in the area and offers hope for our young people; for the future. As the mayor of Nablus says: "Speak not of Christian or Muslim communities. Speak of Christian and Muslim inhabitants of Nablus." We are proud that there is a united Nablus.'
The youth centre, requiring the complete rebuilding and renovation of crumbling outbuildings, was funded by a Liverpool-wide appeal that raised £50,000, which was matched with donations of £50,000 from the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.
Archbishop Kelly said to the assembled parishioners, from young children to a 92-year-old parishioner: 'It is important not just to surround yourselves by things you can use, but also by things that are beautiful, like this centre. Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral is often used by television because of its beauty and it is because of its beauty that we can spread the Good News of the Gospel. Beauty is where everything comes together.'
The Archbishop called on the parishioners of St Justin, in his homily for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, to pray for Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia.
'Bishop Michael Evans is a huge friend of the Holy Land, coming here often. He will die in the next few weeks and we pray for him as I promised we would before coming here. As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord we remember that death is not the end of the story. Joy, love and peace are stronger than death.
'I ask you to think of this image. Sin plunges us into darkness. Jesus does not watch, but he asks John to plunge him under the water. Jesus is not distant. The Word becomes flesh and lives among us. He is close to us: to the families of those killed in the US, to those in Iraq and Egypt. But we must go further. Jesus did not build a wall. He built a bridge. He tells us: I will go into the heart of those who did wicked things. I will not condemn. I will go to them.
'Why are we, as bishops of the Holy Land Co-ordination, here? We are here to be with you in solidarity, but also to encourage you to build bridges; to unite all as we are one family. We all bring our sorrows, but we can transform them. Near here Jesus met the Samarian woman by Jacob’s Well. There he said he was not the saviour of this land. He is the Saviour of the World. You, the people of St Justin, carry that message. Baptism makes us one family, bringing light to what is dark.”
At Jacob’s Well, where Jesus met the Samarian woman, the delegation led by Archbishop Kelly met with the Greek Orthodox custodian of the Church Fr Mamalos Justinos. He has been custodian for 31 years following the murder of the previous custodian by a Jewish settler in 1979.