The Catechism in Hebrew

2012-01-18 L’Osservatore Romano

How do you write “Trinity” in Hebrew? And “Immaculate Conception”? The problem is not the mere translation of the words but the context in which Christian truths are presented. Hebrew culture and theology are not acquainted with these concepts, and so the language doesn't allow access to them. And yet for this reason, the first three volumes of the Catechism have now been published in Hebrew, geared toward children and families who, in Israel, wish to begin their journey in the Christian faith. It is an undertaking directed not so much towards Jews as Christians working in Israel.

Fr David Neuhaus, a Jesuit, is the vicar of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, with the task of overseeing the pastoral care of all these “special Israelis”. Before him, it was in the hands of Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land. Together with the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr Neuhaus had began this particular and extraordinary work of translating, silently and discreetly. In the heart of new Jerusalem there is a little church where the Patriachate welcomes activities of pastoral care in Hebrew. With Fr Neuhaus they work steadily with 35 families, who have committed themselves to encourage catechesis and manage services for thousands of children and their families. “They are mainly of mixed Israeli origin”, explained Fr Neuhaus, “relatives of Jews, children of Jews, some converted Jews and other persons who are not Jewish but have been integrated into Jewish society”.

The effort is also meant for Arab citizens of Israel, descendants of the Palestinians who didn't flee in 1948. Some families left Galilee to move to the south, above all to Beer Sheva, and work with the Bedouins as teachers and doctors, but they do not send their children to Arab schools because of the low quality of the schools. “So, our catechesis books, our magazine, our website (www.catholic.co.il), our liturgy,” the Jesuit continued, “serve this population, even when it isn't their own rite. We insist on Christian formation. Christian in a secular and Jewish environment”.

Foreign workers who come to Israel must send their children to public school, where they speak and teach in Hebrew. So there are Arab children, Israeli citizens and children of Israelis, who grow up learning Hebrew without speaking their own “native” tongue. “Our catechesis books,” he concluded, “are not just for 'our' children, but for anyone who attends Hebrew school. Our challenge is not just to give formation to these 6-year-old children, but to work ages 15 to 25, to give them a sense of the Church and of being Christian, a sense of joy”.

Marco Bonatti