Having taken part in meetings organised by the Taizé community in Moscow, Beirut, and Istanbul, I was delighted to take part in another such gathering in the Holy Land in May 2022.
As part of a programme of visiting holy sites and spending time with local Christians, some workshops were offered to allow a more in-depth encounter. I was especially interested to hear that the Comboni Sisters were sharing something of their work with the Bedouin people. The workshop was led by Sister Aziza, whose long history of helping the least fortunate; those affected by leprosy, refugees, and victims of human trafficking has been recognised by numerous awards.
After humanitarian work in South Sudan, and medical training in England, Sister Aziza joined the Comboni Sisters in the Holy Land, and since 2010 has worked as a nurse at an open clinic in Tel Aviv run which provides free healthcare to refugees. The sanctity, and joyful service of the sisters was simply inspiring, and it was to the envy of many others who had attended that workshop that I had opportunity to visit her work in Tel Aviv.
Very early one morning, I walked from my hostel in the old centre of Jerusalem, and passed through the Damascus Gate to find Sister Aziza’s car. I was picked up amidst the chaos that characterises that part of the Holy City, and we began the drive to Tel Aviv.
On the way, Sister Aziza told me of her work, not with the Bedouins but with others who have been left behind. In contrast to the bright lights, night life, and crisp architecture of the city centre, the aged Fiat pulled into a corner of Tel Aviv I can only suppose few visitors see. We arrived in a small industrial complex, and I was led up several flights of gloomy, graffitied stairs, reminiscent more of the golden age of crime drama of the 1980s than of a place of hope. And yet, as a sign of the project itself, as we passed through the door, I entered a place of light and healing, full of colour and joy. As I met the other volunteers, Sister Aziza talked me through the various activities of Kuchinante.
I came to learn that Kuchinate, means “crochet” in the Eritrean language, and identifies the centre which provides economic and social empowerment to hundreds of African refugee women and their families living in South Tel Aviv. The basis of the project is facilitating an income through making handmade products, promoting dignity and learning new and transferable skills, as well as encouraging artistic expressions of the journey of their lives so far. In addition to designing and making of crafts and artworks, Kuchinate provides community support, individual and group psychosocial support, and educational projects. Sister Aziza’s vision is that by a holistic approach, the women of Kuchinate heal, rehabilitate and support each other, whilst providing financially for their families.
After a morning in such blessed company, I returned to Jerusalem by train with a copy of Sister Aziza’s latest book, as well as a new apron, which has been a talking point at many clerical dinner parties since. Long after the book is lost and the apron worn out, what will remain is the memory of Sister Aziza’s example of how, in great adversity, a small group can create a place of care and encouragement to serve those who otherwise are in great darkness.
It is no exaggeration to say that Sister Aziza becomes the second person I’ve met who I think may one day be canonised. I am delighted to recommend assistance of this wonderful work as a way of supporting the Christian witness in the Holy Land.
Anyone who would wish to contribute to this can get in touch with Fr Peter directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or see the parish website at: www.ourladyandstjoseph.info
Pictured above is Fr Peter Wygnanski with Sister Aziza in Jerusalem.