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Brother Peter Bray: Keeping Hope Alive



From: Saint Mary’s College of California


Submitted on Monday, May 1, 2017  By Jo Shroyer

    Vice President for Mission Carole Swain,
    Brother Peter Bray, and President Jim Donahue
    (left to right) at the Academic Convocation.

It was a tutorial in hope, resilience, solidarity and love. In his speech to the Saint Mary’s community at Academic Convocation, Brother Peter Bray, FSC, who was honored during De La Salle week for his contributions as a distinguished Lasallian educator, said that he was standing before us as a representative of Bethlehem University in Palestine.

“One of our significant challenges at Bethlehem University is to keep hope alive,” said Brother Peter, the vice chancellor of the Lasallian University whose mission is to provide quality higher education to the people of Palestine.

“I think hope is something different from optimism,” Brother Peter said. “Because when Palestinians look back on the past 60 or 70 years, there is very little that leads them to be optimistic.” And so, the quality of hope, he said, has more to do with their knowledge that they are not alone, that there are people outside Palestine who are standing in solidarity with them.

He described the restrictions under which the students lived in Palestine, hostility, frequent delays at security checkpoints, and the sheer unpredictability of their lives.

“So, when I go back and talk to our students about this gathering, it will be a source of hope for them.”

Bethlehem University was established in 1973 following a historic 1964 visit by Pope Paul VI to the Holy Land. Seeking to find some way to help the people of Palestine, the Vatican determined that an institution of higher learning for young Palestinians was the answer. The joint venture between the Vatican and the Christian Brothers got underway on Oct. 1, 1973 when three Brothers joined a group of Palestinians and more than 100 students to begin classes in the first registered university in Palestine.

Brother Peter, who has served at Bethlehem University for nine years, noted that it is also the only Catholic university in the Holy Land. “I am often asked ‘What is an unashamedly Catholic university doing in a country where there are so few Christians, fewer than 2 percent? What are you doing there?’”

Bringing laughter to the audience in the Saint Mary’s Chapel, he noted, “If you go back to when Jesus was walking the land, there were no Christians there at all.”  So, what was he doing there, Brother Peter asked. “Go to Saint John’s Gospel, Chapter 10, verse 10, and you can find out. ‘I have come that they may have life, life in all its fullness.’ That’s what Jesus was doing; that’s what Bethlehem University is doing.”

The university is gathering Muslims and Christians, male and female, the young and the not so young together, Brother Peter said, “to create an environment where students can acquire knowledge, gain skills, and develop the virtues to live life fully despite the restrictions that are part of their lives.”

Stressing that Bethlehem University has no political or economic power, nor any influence, Brother Peter pointed to the two important things that they do have—the power of the word and the impact of their institutions, the university, schools, clinics, and hospitals—that welcome and serve everyone.

“The words we speak, the way we talk about what is happening, the way we talk about one another, how we talk about Christians, how we talk about Muslims, how we talk about Jews—the word is so important.” In short, a Gospel dynamic, Brother Peter said. “A love dynamic. 

And we are pulling down walls and opening windows, so that we can connect with people, ‘the other,’ so that we can be inclusive.”

Being a Lasallian institution, “the same as Saint Mary’s,” he said, the importance of relationships is at its heart. The faculty and staff at Bethlehem University are expected to be brothers and sisters to each other, look for practical ways to help each other live life fully, and be older brothers and sisters to their students, “the young people who have been entrusted to us,” he said. “It’s a wonderful word—entrusted to us.”

Brother Peter enjoined the students at Saint Mary’s to consider how lucky they are to be here, to have the environment the College provides, and to live without restrictions such as those the students at Bethlehem University must endure. He asked that they stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Palestine. And he reminded them that when they graduate they are more than the degree they’ve earned, more than the job they’ll have, the house, the car, and other possessions. And he challenged them to step out into the world to serve as people who are fully alive and loved beyond their wildest dreams “by a God who is walking with them, by a God who calls them to live life to the fullest.”

Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine