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Being Brother in the Holy Land

Reflection by Brother Peter Iorlano, FSC

I am currently serving in higher education at Bethlehem University in the Holy Land.

At present, the university has a student population of 3000. About 25 percent are Christian and 75 percent are Muslim.

Fifteen years ago I was invited to visit Bethlehem University to see if I might minister there. In addition to meeting with the Brothers serving at the university, I was given a list of various faculty and administrative staff to meet.

Between meetings, I happened upon a student, named Yusef, who was standing outside the Brothers’ residence on campus. I said hello and he engaged me in conversation. Quickly, I learned that he was upset; he explained what was disturbing him.

As we spoke, I had a God experience: I became aware that God was speaking to me through Yusef. When I told Yusef that I believed God was speaking to me through his encouragement to me to come to Bethlehem, he was shocked. He said, “how can God speak to you, a Christian, through me, a Muslim?” I responded without thought, “Is anything impossible for God?” Yusef smiled with astonishment. Afterwards, I mentioned this incident to some Brothers and others with whom I interviewed and they, too encouraged me to come to minister at Bethlehem University.

Bethlehem University is the only Catholic University in the Holy Land; it is the first registered institution of tertiary education in Palestine. Founded nearly 50 years ago, it grew out of a long Lasallian presence in primary and secondary education in the Holy Land and other parts of the Near East.

I serve as the Coordinator of Institutional Values, a combination of university ministry, Lasallian formation and mission officer; in addition I teach part time. The pastoral work with students, faculty and staff, and teaching first-year students remedial English and second-year Nursing students Developmental Psychology have provided me a broad experience within this ministry.

During my time at Bethlehem University, I have been challenged to grow, not only professionally, but also spiritually and personally. During the past fifteen years, the Brothers with whom I have lived and worked, my colleagues, and the students I serve wittingly and unwittingly have shown me sides of myself that need to be affirmed, rough edges that need to be smoothed, and sides that need to be polished. In short, through them God has been transforming me.

I have been educated to be a social worker and a formator; through supervised experience I learned to be a teacher. Though these are roles I perform, these skills involved in these professions are the tools available to me as I try to be Brother to the young people, colleagues and Brothers entrusted to me care.

Daily, various members of these groups of people as well as family and friends populate my prayer: some I bring before the Lord, others drive me to the Lord. Each day I try to be attuned to how God is calling me to serve him through them; sometimes I am more aware than other times. Each day, I try to be attentive to what God is teaching me through them; sometimes I am more aware than other times. The Brothers’ community and the apostolate in which we serve are indeed privileged places to meet God.

When I turned 25-years-old as a new Brother, I wrote a reflection in which I understood my vocation as a Brother to be a professional lover. Nearly 40 years later, I still believe this, but have a more profound understanding of the selflessness required. My life as a Brother is grace-filled: I have a sense that God is leading me home and giving me my daily bread for the journey.