One hundred and thirty Focolare young people from25 countries meet Mayor Vera Baboun in Bethlehem, along with some of their Palestinian age-mates. Mayor Baboun remarked: “In a country wounded by the absence of brotherhood the rule that says ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is the real change”

VeraBMajorThe Peace Centre is located in the multi-religious and political heart of Bethlehem. In the same square – a square of white stone and surrounded by palm trees – there is the Basilica of the Nativity and the Mosque, a coexistence that has nothing of confrontation or intolerance. Next door is the Town Hall and all around the colours of the Bethlehem market. There is also the haunting wall that the Israeli government has constructed in defence of its territory.

The Focolare Movement’s Youth for a United World have decided on the Peace Centre as the venue for strengthening the bridges of brotherhood that were begun at the Genfest event that took place in Budapest, Hungary (September 2012). Now they are building bridges everywhere in the world. The slogan in Hungary was Let’s bridge and this was an invitation to construct bonds among people around the world, overcoming barriers among peoples, faiths and cultures. Now the slogan has become Be the bridge! and this is the project that is being launched from the Holy Land with a database that provides a catalogue of best practices that have been inspired by brotherhood and implemented by individuals, groups, organizations and states.

First Lady and Mayor of Bethlehem and the Palestinian territories, Vera Baboun, welcomed the proposed launching “happily and proudly because I believe in the power and ability of dialogue in a land that is wounded by the absence of brotherhood.” Cristina, who is a university professor, widow and mother of five children, shared her experience as a woman mayor and answered questions that were posed to her by the lively young audience. As an enthusiastic supporter of innovation and of the new generations, she repeated several times: “It’s up to us to take the steps that will lead to what is new. Three things are needed to build bridges: courage, good will and truth. You need to have trust in yourselves and believe that you can change.”

In confirmation of the innovation that has distinguished her administration she presented the idea of an advisory council made up of young people alongside the elected city council. In her closing remarks she could not but make reference to the wall surrounding her city. “This wall was built by human hands. What will bring it down? Human hands. Let us make a disadvantage into an advantage and work for a common dream: that of making the world a home for people who really are a single humanity. And the Palestinians are this humanity.”

Meanwhile in Jerusalem the final stage of the Genfest continues until May 1st with the workshop on brotherhood that is being run by the Focolare’s young people in the Holy Land. It began on April 24th. Several events are planned involving Jews, Arabs, Christians and Muslims that will help them to continue in the commitment they made in Budapest to build bridges everywhere. There is a workshop at Bethlehem University on reconciliation, involving 200 Christian and Muslim students; while other young people are involved with the international Gen Rosso and Gen Verde bands, as well as other local artists, for a journey into the world of music and art.

On May 1st there will be an international link-up from Jerusalem with Italy, Hungary and India during which a worldwide pact of brotherhood will be made and the United World Project will be re-launched. This project aims to increase the unity among peoples, individuals and institutions also through the creation of a database of all the projects that have worked over the years.

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