Franciscans in the Holy Land have launched a new project to bring together young people from different cultural and religious backgrounds to share in the “common language” of sports. Father Quirico Calella, O.F.M., director of Acre’s Terra Santa School, said there is “a real need” for a multicultural and multi-purpose sports center like the planned Tau Sports Center. “In the evening, the various ethnic groups in Acre — Muslims, Christians and Jews — can meet here, since sports are a common language,” he said, according to the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land. He said Franciscan organizers intend to make the planned sports center “a unique place of fellowship and unity” that will be “a solid foundation that will contribute to the building of a just and lasting peace.” There are about 35,000 Jews and 14,000 Arabs in Acre, located in northern Israel. Fewer than 1,000 of the Arabs are Christian, while the majority are Muslims. Acre was the last major crusader stronghold to fall to Muslim forces in the 13th century, decades after St. Francis of Assisi visited the city. Since the 1500s, Franciscan friars have served local Christians in education and social activities. Fr. Calella’s school has over 530 students. However, there has been little space for sports near his school, other than a small multi-purpose hall that is hard for students to reach in the afternoon. The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land oversees all holy sites in the Holy Land for the sake of all Christians. “Sport is a language common to all cultures and for this reason can become a vehicle for establishing a link between realities that are far apart from one another,” the custody’s Pro Terra Sancta website said. The Tau Sports Center will also host social events and encounters between young people from different religions. It will follow Fr. Calella’s method of intercultural experience. In Acre there is already a music group that follows this method: the Tau Band, which is composed of Jews, Muslims and Christians. Fr. Calella said the Franciscans aim “to bring people together” following the example of St. Francis. The group is seeking donations for the project at www.ffhl.org.
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