Monday, March 12, 2018

In support of Christians in the Holy Land

On Good Friday, 30 March 2018, a special collection for the needs of the Christians in the Holy Land will take place in all Catholic churches across the world.  In anticipation of this collection, the Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches has addressed a Letter to all the Bishops of the world.

Letter of His Eminence, Leonardo Sandri
Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches

Your Excellency,

The Lenten Season, which we are living once again, invites us to go to Jerusalem through the way of the Cross upon which the Son of God accomplished his redemptive mission. On this pilgrimage the Holy Spirit who reveals to us the meaning of the Word of God accompanies us. Besides the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are strengthened by prayer and almsgiving. It is the right time to get closer to Christ by recognizing our poverty and our sins and to live the same emptiness and humility as the Son of God who became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich (2 Cor 8:9).

It is also an exceptional time to reach out to others through the works of charity. Knowing that the Lenten journey is not a solitary act, but an itinerary of solidarity by which each one of us is called to pause and, like the Good Samaritan, accompany our brothers and sisters who for many reasons find it difficult to stand up and continue their journey.

Also this year, the traditional Collection for the Holy Land held on Good Friday, is a proper occasion for the faithful to be one with our brethren in the Holy Land and the Middle East. Unfortunately, from those territories, the outcry of thousands of persons who are deprived of everything, at times even of their own human dignity, continues to reach us, breaking our hearts and inviting us to embrace them through Christian charity, a sure source of hope.

Without the spirit of Christ who emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2, 7-8), the outcry of our brother remains unheard too and the faces of thousands of less fortunate persons remain unnoticed.

What place could be the best to meditate upon this Kenosis of the Son of God, if not the same places where, for more than 2000 years, the memory of our redemption has been kept alive? I indicate with particular attention two Basilicas, the one of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, built on the grotto where Jesus was born and the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, built on the tomb of Jesus, which became the womb of life through His Resurrection. Last year, both Basilicas were restored, thanks to the collaboration and the generosity of so many persons of good will. Building the Church in the Holy Land, through the edifices of cult and the living stones of the Christian faithful is the responsibility of all the Particular Churches of Christianity, recognizing that the Christian faith had its first impulse from the Mother Church in Jerusalem.

The Catholic Community in the Holy Land, with all its facets, namely, the Latin one of the Patriarchal Diocese of Jerusalem, the Franciscan Custody and the other Oriental Circumscriptions  (Greco-melkite, Coptic, Maronite, Syrian, Chaldean, Armenian) with all the religious families and every type of organism, has a special vocation to live the faith in a multi-religious, political, social and cultural context. Notwithstanding, the challenges and the insecurities, the parishes continue their pastoral service with a preferential attention to the poor. We hope against hope, that the schools serve as a place of encounter for Christians and Muslims, where they prepare a future of mutual respect and collaboration; the hospitals and clinics, the hospices and meeting centres continue to welcome the suffering and those in need, refugees and displaced persons of all ages and religions struck by the horror of war.

We cannot forget the thousands of families who fled from the violence of the war in Syria and Iraq, among whom are children and youth, a great number of them of school-age, who appeal to our generosity in order to resume their scholastic life so that they may dream of a better future.

One particular thought, at this moment, goes to the small Christian Community in the Middle East, which continues to sustain the faith among the displaced persons from Iraq and Syria and among the refugees in Jordan and Lebanon who also are assisted by their Pastors, religious and volunteers from different countries. The faces of these persons question us about the meaning of being a Christian. Their strained lives inspire us. The Holy Father, Pope Francis in his Message for the celebration of this year's World Day of Peace affirms: In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands (Message for the 51st World Day of Peace, 1). Let us concretely show them our closeness, through our constant prayer and through our monetary aid, particularly after the liberation of the Niniveh Plain. Most Iraqi Christians and Syrians want to return to their own land where their houses were destroyed, including schools, hospitals and churches that were devastated. Let us not leave them alone.

All of us are invited to resume the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, because the knowledge of, and the living experience in the places of our redemption: walking in the steps of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the disciples, helps us to deepen our faith and also to understand the context in which the Christians live in the Holy Land. Besides, the pilgrimages are a form of sustenance for the survival of thousands of families.

During these days leading up to Easter, I fraternally invite you to commit yourselves to overcoming hate by love; and sadness with joy, praying and working so that peace finds a home in every person's heart, and especially in the hearts of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land and the Middle East.

I am glad to pass on to you, to all the priests, religious and the faithful who work for the success of the Good Friday Collection, the sentiments of deepest gratitude of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, together with my own gratitude and that of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Whilst I invoke upon you and your pastoral ministry and upon all the faithful entrusted to your care an abundance of Divine Blessings, I wish you Happy Easter and fraternal greetings in the Lord Jesus.

Leonardo Cardinal Sandri

+ Cyril Vasil', S.J.
Archbishop Secretary

14 February 2018
Ash Wednesday

The Collection for the Holy Land was born out of the desire of the Pope to maintain strong ties between all Christians throughout the world and the various sites throughout the Holy Land.  The Collection, which is traditionally received on Good Friday, is the principal source of support for the lives of those who live and work in the Holy Land.  It is also the means by which the Church stands side by side with ecclesial community in the Middle East.  In most recent years, Pope Paul VI provided a special impetus in favour of the Holy Land in his Apostolic Exhortation Nobis in Animo (25 March 1974).

Through this Collection, the Custody (Franciscans) supports and continues the important mission to which it is called: caring for the Holy Sites, the maintaining the memory, and favouring the Christian presence, the living stones of the Holy Land, through many activities of solidarity, as for example the upkeep of pastoral, educational, welfare, health and social structures.

The territories which benefit from various forms of support provided by this Collection include: Jerusalem, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

Normally, the Custody of the Holy Land receives the largest share of the Collection, while the money that remains in the care of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches is used for the formation of candidates for the priesthood, the support of clergy, various scholastic activities, cultural formation and subsidies provided to various ecclesiastical circumscriptions (Dioceses and Eparchies) in the Middle East.

In 2017, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches received a total of US$5,531,899.22 in support of the Holy Land.

Thanks to the proceeds raised by the Collection, contributions could be made to seminaries, houses of religious formation and cultural institutes in various territories throughout the Holy Land; support in various forms - study bursaries, university fees and other health-related necessities - were paid for those in formation, some of them in Rome including young seminarians and priests, religious men and women, and wherever possible, some lay people as well.  The new College which opened two years ago to welcome religious who come from various Eastern countries currently houses 27 students.  There are approximately 300 students currently benefitting from proceeds raised through this Collection; they are studying at 7 different Colleges under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

In addition, the Congregation contributes to the support of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, an academic institution of higher learning which includes two faculties: Oriental Ecclesiastical Sciences and Canon Law for the Eastern Churches.  The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches serves as the Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Oriental Institute.

In 2017, funds contributed to the formation of seminarians, priests and religious sisters in Rome as well as to the upkeep of various Roman Colleges totalled US$600,000 plus EURO2,236,810.  Contributions to the Pontifical Oriental Institute totalled EURO1,472,318.

The Patriarchal Dioceses of Jerusalem, the Franciscan Custody, the Oriental Churches in the Holy Land and the Religious Institutes are committed to the scholastic formation of youth in the Holy Land.  Taking account of the particular circumstances in which Christian students face and considering the arrival in the Holy Land of thousands of school-aged children from Syria and Iraq, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches has decided to augment the sum of its support also for the current academic year.

It is also worth noting the work of the Secretariat of Solidarity which coordinates and distributes subsidies to various scholastic institutions operated by the above-mentioned institutions.

One of the prestigious foundations which provides academic formation is Bethlehem University.  Almost 3,300 young people, most of whom are Palestinian Muslims, are trained both intellectually and effectively in the hopes that they will commit themselves to building a country where reciprocal respect reigns and where human dignity is preserved.  The commitment of the de La Salle Brothers to the administration of the University is appreciable.

In 2017, the Secretariat for Solidarity received US$1,030,000 from the funds raised through the Collection for the Holy Land.  Schools operated by the Latin Patriarchate and the Patriarchate for Jerusalem received US$1,200,000 and Bethlehem University received US$900,000.

The Congregation for the Oriental Churches helps to support the Churches placed under its jurisdiction through grants made possible by the Collection for the Holy Land.

In the year 2017, the following distributions were made:  Dioceses in Jerusalem received US$328,000; Dioceses in Jordan received US$25,000; Dioceses in Iraq received US$142,000; Dioceses in Lebanon received US$293,000; Dioceses in Turkey received US$203,070; Dioceses in Iran received US$58,520; Dioceses in Egypt received US$261,000; Dioceses in Ethiopia received US$143,000; and Dioceses in Eritrea received US$158,000.  The total disbursements paid to support the Church in these countries was US$1,611,570.

In Iraq and Syria, the struggle continues against terrorism and internal wars are still destabilizing those countries.  Meanwhile, good news is arriving concerning the freeing of some villages in the above-mentioned countries, especially along the Nineveh Plains where Christians are returning despite the insecurity of destroyed homes, schools, hospitals and churches.  The Congregation is paying particular attention to the needs of these people and is involved in necessary restructuring through the Oriental and Latin-rite Dioceses located in those places as well as through the cooperation of various Catholic Agencies who are involved in those countries.

Ensuring the means necessary for dignified lives for those who are returning to Iraq and Syria and for those who are currently refugees in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan requires the collaboration of all people of good will.  In addition, cultural and spiritual activities are also encouraged in order to bring people together regardless of religious or ethnic differences.

As you can see, the expenses outweigh the amount of money raised by the Collection and therefore greater cooperation and generous commitment is needed on the part of Christians from all over the world in support of their brothers and sisters in the Holy Land and in the Middle East.  

The invitation of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, expressed in his Message for the World Day of Peace for this year still resounds in our ears and challenges us to face the need to be committed to welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating a brother in need, especially migrants and refugees.

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