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Spain: Refugee Bethlehem at ICAI
30 January 2018

A JRS building can be seen in the model Bethlehem as inspired by Dollo Ado refugee camp in Ethiopia. (Comillas ICAI)

Madrid, 30 January 2018 – Last December, the Industrial Engineering School (ICAI) at Comillas University, a Jesuit university in Spain with more than a century of history, inaugurated a refugee nativity scene.

In Spain, there is a vibrant nativity scene tradition at Christmas, by which the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is represented with beautiful figures and scenes depicting the evangelic narratives. This year, a group of engineering teachers together with Fr. Alberto Núñez SJ, University Chaplain, decided to bring this tradition to the school. But, instead of the historical narrative and atmosphere, they envisioned the significance of Jesus’s birth at the margins of society by representing his birth in a refugee camp.

They wanted this representation to be as realistic as possible. With the help of Entreculturas, a Spanish, Jesuit NGO, a real camp was chosen: Dollo Ado in Ethiopia. They also wanted this model Bethlehem to have a significant meaning in the School of Engineering. Therefore, they put special emphasis on representing the electric infrastructure (or lack of it) that is present at Dollo Ado.

This Bethlehem project had several objectives: to bring Christmas to the university, to make both teachers and students aware of one of the great dramas of our time, and to encourage them to do something about it.

More than a hundred photos were used as a reference. Over 200 clay figures and a number of huts and prefabricated houses were made, including a JRS building. Eight daily scenes of camp life (children in the school, children playing soccer, adults learning to sew, adults receiving UN food…) were represented.

In all over 40 people (teachers, students and university workers) participated in the 9-square meter model Bethlehem. The project, however, has not ended here. The pioneering group of teachers has decided to carry the idea into the new year and has begun to think about the ways in which the university can be present in refugee camps.

– Alberto Núñez SJ, Director of Pastoral Services, Comillas University

To see a complete collection of photographs of the reconstructed Bethlehem click here.

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Martina Bezzini