Bethlehem, ‘House of Bread’ is certainly the heart of Christian faith, holding in its lap the history of the birth of the Saviour Jesus Christ. Overlooking the Judean desert the Salesian house, in all its simplicity, looms at its destiny: salvation of souls. The Salesians are the followers of St. John Bosco, who with his untiring effort and with deep compassion worked for the poorest of the youth at Turin, Italy. While his mission spread like wild fire throughout the world and now is operational in nearly 135 countries, with about 15,500 followers. The Salesian house at Bethlehem is a part of a wide open salesian mission all around the world.
The Salesian mission to the youth is a possibility today at Bethlehem, thanks to the magnanimity of one of the saintly daring visionary by name Antonio Belloni. Often fondly called as ‘Abulyatama’, which means Father of the Orphans, he began attending to the needs of the orphans at Betjala and at Bethlehem. As a young priest, professor and spiritual director, Fr. Antonio Belloni found his mission to the orphans was a ‘call within a call’. Antonio began giving a shape to his ‘call’ to work for the orphans, by building a modest structure for them at Bethlehem in 1864, which eventually turned out to be the first Salesian house in the Holy Land. While his charism to work for the orphans was well in line in with the charism of Don Bosco, he invited the Salesian priests to Bethlehem. On his invitation the Salesians arrived at Bethlehem in 1891, and began working for the poorest of the poor Palestinian Arabs. It is in this context we could situate the work of the Salesians with a technical school, youth centre, carpentry workshop, tailoring, bread baking and various other productive activities.
The Church built by the Salesians named after the ‘Sacred heart of Jesus’ serves as a public church till today, offering hope to every single devotee. In the recent past the Salesians have begun an artistic centre and an International Nativity Museum as ventures that would give job employment to some youth. Today one would find the Salesian mission flourishing with its dynamism: Youth centre with 200 boys and girls, Scout with 120 members, School with 150 students, Bakery that feeds nearly a 100 families freely everyday, a public church that attends to the spiritual needs of nearly 200 local Christians. Under Salesians nothing is static!!! Today the Salesian house, hosts Salesians from different parts of the world: Egypt, Italy, India, Lebanon and Vietnam. Salesian priests untiringly keep the flame alive: working of the poor and the destitute youth. A humble beginning turned out to be a great blessing to the Church and at large to the Palestinian society at Bethlehem. Today the house serves as the Mother House to all the Salesian houses in the Middle East. In the Holy Land alone there are four more houses: In Cremisan (with a vinery), BetJamal (hosts neighbouring visitors for different purposes), Nazareth (with a technological school) and in Jerusalem (with a seminary). God bless the Salesian mission.