Children with no legal status perform in a theatre at the Notre Dame Centre in Jerusalem. Courtesy of Cécile Leca- lpj.org (Cécile Leca)

By Vatican News staff reporter

August 25 2022

A biblical play is performed by young people, in collaboration with the St James Vicariate for Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel, to highlight the challenges faced by 1600 children who have no legal status in Israel.

A group of children have taken to the stage to highlight what life is like for them living with no legal status in Israel.

They performed in a biblical play based on the Book of Ruth, which recounts the story of a foreign woman who assimilated herself into Israelite society.

Opening the theatrical production at the Notre Dame Centre in Jerusalem on 22 August, Fr. Piotr Zelazko, the Patriarchal Vicar of Saint James Vicariate For Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel (part of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem), explained that currently, there are 1600 children who were born in Israel but are not recognized by Israeli law.

The children were born to migrants who have not been able to achieve legal status in the state.

 “During the scholastic year, they are protected by the law but now, during summer break, they could be all arrested and get deported to countries they don’t know and which languages they don’t speak,” he said.

 “Of behalf of St. James Vicariate,” he continued, “I promise to do everything I can in order to give these children a ‘normal’, ‘regular’ life. Life without fear that has a place for dreaming of a future like any other child in Israel and in Europe.”

In my shoes

Performing on stage, the children have their own stories to tell. One young actor, reading aloud a letter he wrote, says: “I am Israeli in everything. I am celebrating the feasts with my friends. I am eating Israeli food. I am playing the same games as Israelis do…”

Another child tells the audience: “Only if you were in my shoes, you would know how it really feels to live almost always in fear that they will catch you…”

In order to prepare themselves for the play, the St. James’ youth group, called “Desert Flower” was assembled in Deir Rafat Monastery, near Jerusalem, where they prayed and rehearsed together.

Bridge building

The play is part of a project funded by the European Erasmus programme. Its aim is to build bridges between Hebrew-speaking Catholic youth and European youth. Four countries were represented in the project. It also marks a new collaboration between St. James Vicariate and KISI – God’s singing kids – an organization which spreads the Gospel message through song.

According to Fr. Zelazko, it was clear from the beginning that Ruth was going to be the play they would work on, saying it was “A wonderful option that tackles the legal status issues of those children.”

Speaking about the project, Monika Faes, from KISI, said “When the Erasmus+ Project started in 2019 and was then continued in 2021, it was clearly a building-bridges programme. Youth meeting with such different backgrounds, life stories from four countries (Netherlands, Austria, Israel, Germany) was in itself already a wonderful opportunity of sharing life, sharing the common faith.”

Katrin Tal, Coordinator of Youth Programs at St. James Vicariate said: “The play was an instrument in order to connect with the audience. In order to tell them the story of children, that unlike others who are waiting for summer vacation, they fear it. Fear of being deported. The COVID period was difficult as everyone had to stay at home. For our youth, that’s the reality even now.”

“We hope for further cooperation and we work hard to find ways of giving these children a ‘normal’ future of higher education and work,” she said. – Vatican News