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NZer Br Peter Bray To Walk Camino Trail To Raise Money For Bethlehem University

Br Peter Bray FSC – the New Zealander who was vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University for 15 years until December – is about to start the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. He is walking in solidarity with the Palestinian people to raise money for Bethlehem University, which has a $1 million gap largely caused by issues related to the Israel-Hamas war.

Br Peter on a rooftop patio at Bethlehem University. Photo/Supplied

He will begin his 730km walk this Thursday, May 23, in Pamplona in north-eastern Spain, and expects to take at least 39 days to reach its conclusion at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-western Spain. He estimates he will take between 1.2 and 1.3 million steps, and says it would be wonderful to get $1 a step, though that might be ambitious.

“As so many [Bethlehem] students' families are involved in the hospitality industry, and because no pilgrims or tourists are visiting Palestine, there is no income available to those families,” Br Peter says.

“In addition, with checkpoints closed to [West Bank] Palestinian workers who have jobs in Jerusalem, the same applies to those families. This means children of those families who attend Bethlehem University are having serious difficulties paying their tuition. As a result, the university has difficulties paying salaries and running costs. My little effort is one contribution to help address this challenge.”

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Br Peter undertook a speaking tour of Aotearoa New Zealand in January and February last year, invited by the Catholic bishops to talk about the lives and conditions of his students and ordinary Palestinians. Since his retirement from the university, Br Peter has been at a sabbatical program in San Antonio, Texas, giving him the chance to stand back and reflect on the university’s work.

“It has given me a greater appreciation of its mission. Being so far away from campus and hearing about what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank is a great source of grief for me.”

Br Peter visited Gaza a few months before the Hamas attack on Israel last October 7 that led to the present war, and met with a group of young people interested in exploring ways of engaging with Bethlehem University.

“I know at least three of those young people have been killed, but because I have lost contact with anyone in Gaza, I suspect there are more who have suffered that fate. I lament the suffering people there are enduring and feel angry and sad that this has been allowed to happen.”

Bethlehem University was established in 1973. It was the first registered university in the Occupied West Bank territory of Palestine and is the only Catholic university in the Holy Land. It is a Catholic co-educational institution in the De La Salle tradition, its mission being to provide quality higher education to the people of Palestine.

Before his appointment in Bethlehem, Br Peter was the Director and CEO of the Wellington Catholic Education Centre. His work as a teacher and education consultant has taken him around the world.

  • Bethlehem University Foundation fundraising page for Br Peter’s pilgrimage: https://bufusa.org/camino/
  • Details of Br Peter’s 2023 New Zealand tour: https://www.catholic.org.nz/news/media-releases/brpeter-nztour/

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