Bankstown Youth to Learn About the Experience of Christians in Palestine

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
15 Jan 2016

St Felix youth on mission in Naga, Philippines

This Sunday, De La Salle Brother Mark McKeon will address the youth of St Felix Parish, Bankstown on the topic of Palestine, where he has been living since October 2014 as the Vice President of Human Resources at Bethlehem University, the only Catholic University in the Holy Land.

Originally from Queensland, Brother Mark is part of the De La Salle community which established the university in 1973.  As well as being the Vice President of Human Resources, he is involved in the university's leadership programs through its Cardinal Martini Institute.  The university also offers courses in nursing, business, education, science, hospitality and tourism.

Following the 6pm Youth Mass in the parish, Brother Mark will speak to the youth about the insights he has gained about the experience of Christians in Palestine.

Brother Mark wants the youth to be aware that while there are Christians in Palestine, the reality is that the Christians are only 2% of the population in the Holy Land.  "There's a real concern about the declining number of Christians in the Holy Land," Brother Mark says.  "The Patriarch wants to ensure that the holy sites don't just become museum pieces, but living sites of faith for people in the Holy Land."

Brother Mark hopes also to provide the youth with a new perspective on the freedom of living out their Christian faith in Australia; a freedom which they might otherwise take for granted.

He explains the effects of regional conflict on the education of the students, including the closure of the university seven times during October because of the constant tensions.  Additionally, Brother Mark says explains that 45% of the university's students come from Jerusalem, so they have to cross the checkpoints twice each day.  He says that this means they endure daily uncertainty, adding to their stress, but that they still attend because they value the education they receive.

Members of the St Felix youth group at one of their many youth events

While only 2% of the Holy Land's population is Christian, 30% of Bethlehem University's 3300 students are of the Christian faith, with the remaining 70% being Islamic.

Brother Mark says that the relationship between the Christian and Islamic students is very amicable, and that the university provides many of the Muslim students with their first encounter with Christians.  He adds that Muslim parents consider Bethlehem University to be a safe place for their daughters to be educated. 

Brother Mark makes clear that the university is critically important in maintaining the Christian presence in the Holy Land, and believes the presence of the De La Salle Brothers shows solidarity with the Christians there.

Leaders from the St Felix Youth and Young Adults group say that the group is looking forward to welcoming Brother Mark on Sunday.

Beginning in 2008 as a result of Sydney's World Youth Day, the St Felix Youth and Young Adults group has grown in both numbers and activity.

Brother Mark McKeon

Each Wednesday evening, young people aged between 15 and 30 gather for the "Lectio Lounge", a time for Lectio Divina, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, praying the Rosary at the Grotto of Our Lady and concluding with the Divine Mercy Chaplet prayer.

Youth co-ordinator Alison Collet says that the group has flourished with the introduction of the more "traditional" devotional practices, and she has seen how fruitful it is for the young people to take the time to stop and listen to the Lord.

"Despite the talk of declining Mass attendance amongst youth, the young people of Bankstown choose to go above and beyond their "Sunday obligation" by participating in these regular "Worship Wednesday," she says.  "And they have only gained."  There is also a regular Youth Mass on the third Sunday of every month, followed by a talk or some other activity.

As part of their service to others, the group raised enough money to purchase an ambulance to assist the Missionaries of the Poor in the city of Naga in the Philippines.  Ten members of the youth group travelled to Naga over Christmas, 2014 to minister alongside the Missionaries of the Poor, who care for the city's disabled and abandoned children, the homeless and mentally-ill and the elderly.

Brother Mark's talk will be held this Sunday evening, 17 January, at St Felix Parish and School Hall (entry via Chapel Road.)  It will begin at 7pm, following the 6pm Youth Mass.  Attendees are asked to bring $5 to contribute to a pizza dinner for the evening.