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Department of Religious Studies


Religious Studies Faculty Participates in Pastoral Planning of Catholic Churches

The General Catholic Pastoral Planning Committee of the Catholic Churches is a continuation of the Diocesan Synod of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem (1995-2000). The Committee has been meeting since 2000 in an effort to implement the recommendations of the General Pastoral Plan, formulated by the Synod and approved by the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land in November of 2000. Fr. Rafiq Khoury, a long-time consultant for the Religious Studies Department at Bethlehem University, has been directing this effort as Secretary General. The resolutions the Committee formulates during their yearly meetings, based on the Pastoral Plan, are then proposed to the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land for implementation if approved. "The personal encounters with the students, readings and research gave us the material with which to formulate a pastoral plan, which is a result of nine years of work," His Excellency Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo said.

The Committee consists of 72 members- 24 from Jordan, 24 from Palestine and 24 from Israel. Of the 24, eight are religious, eight are priests and eight are lay people. Four people from the Religious Studies Department at Bethlehem University belong to the Committee. Fr. Jamal Khader, Chairperson of the Religious Studies Department, joined as a Diocesan Priest and Fr. Peter Du Brul, S.J., former chairperson and a professor in the Department, joined as a religious member, while Sally Kaissieh (BU '04), an Old Testament and Catechesis professor at Bethlehem University, joined as a lay person.

Some of the topics discussed during their meeting in 2007 were the importance of co-operation among local priests to determine and address the major internal and external problems facing Christian families, the importance of the mother in the family unit, economic factors, children and the Internet, children and drugs, emigration and mixed marriages (inter-Christian and inter-religious). "We hope the commitment of this planning committee will meet with a serious response from the Bishops," Fr. Peter said.


Religious Studies Department Initiates Catechist Qualification Program in Jerusalem and Ramallah

At the formal request of the Assembly of Catholic Churches, the Religious Studies Department began a qualification program for catechists in Jerusalem from September 2003 to May 2005 and in Ramallah from September 2004 to May 2006.

The idea for the program began when the principal of the Frerer Schools in Jerusalem asked for Bethlehem University's help to qualify their students who could not travel to Bethlehem University due to Israeli travel restrictions. Bethlehem University then designed a special program to qualify teachers already working in schools, taking advantage of the Department's opportunity to also create employment for Bethlehem University's prospective teachers, increase enrollment and show Bethlehem University's benefactors that their financial and moral support is well placed and well deserved. Some of the students' employers helped fund their participation and some of the funds were provided by Missio. Participating students received a raise in salary upon graduation to encourage them to enter. Bethlehem University faculty generously volunteered their time.

In Palestine, most teachers of the Christian Religion have no qualifications to teach catechism, but in the absence of alternatives in the Jerusalem and Ramallah areas, the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education hires them upon the recommendation of their parish priests. This demonstrates a clear need for the services of the Department of Religious Studies at Bethlehem University, the only Christian university in the Holy Land.

Consequently, beginning in 2004 a special Upgrading Program was scheduled for two consecutive years (four semesters) on the condition that Bethlehem University accredits the program and awards its students upon graduation with a special diploma from the Assembly of Bishops to certify that they are qualified catechists. Thirteen students who enrolled in the Jerusalem program took courses entitled "The Educational Triangle," "The Religious Educator," "Christian Education in the Mission of the Church" and "School Dynamics," among others.

Encouraged by the success of the program in Jerusalem, Bethlehem University offered a similar one a year later in Ramallah. The program in Jerusalem was open to Catholic schools only, while the program in Ramallah was open to teachers of Christian religious education in all Christian schools. Seventeen enthusiastic teachers, including two from public schools, registered for the program. Based on recommendations from the previous year, this program placed more emphasis on pedagogy. Bethlehem University professors noted a lack of solid theological knowledge in the Jerusalem class and replaced a course in catechism with one in Christian doctrine. Throughout their two years, beginning in the Fall of 2004, students took the following courses: "Christian Education and the Mission of the Church,"  "Content of Religious Education," "The Educational Triangle," "Methods of Religious Education," "School Dynamics,"  "Basic Christian Doctrine," "Religious Education at Different Stages of Life" and "Supervised Teaching." Among the participating Bethlehem University professors in both cities were Sr. Muna Mukarzel, Fr. Rafiq Khoury, Dr. Sofi Ghanem and Fr. Jamal Khader.

Although Bethlehem University faculty made grand efforts at addressing these challenges through the Upgrading Program, Fr. Jamal said that it was not the ideal solution, but merely a practical one. "A bachelor's degree in Religious Studies, with a minor, or a higher diploma in Catechism is necessary to prepare qualified catechists," Fr. Jamal stressed. "We faced the reality that catechism in our schools is poor, and we tried to do our best; still this Upgrading Program was only a short-term remedy," he said. He went on to say that this is why Bethlehem University's education diploma in Teaching Catechism is so important, because it would give these same students the option of transferring the credits they received from the Upgrading Program into a full-fledged graduate program, providing that they already obtained their bachelor's degree.

In 2004 the students from the entire Upgrading Program from Ramallah and Jerusalem went on a three day trip to the Galilee to visit archaeological and religious sites. It was a joyful occasion that provided an opportunity for these religion teachers to visit and pray at the holy sites which the studied and about which they are teaching.  Thanks to the special funding provided by MISSIO, this educational and spiritual excursion was made possible.

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