Collection: Hope for 'living stones' Print
Respect Life
Thursday, Apr. 09, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

Christians in the Holy Land are called "living stones" because they are the living Church, celebrating their faith in the parishes and shrines of the Holy Land.

Recognizing the great needs of these people, Pope Benedict XVI, who will be visiting the Holy Land in May, directs that the Good Friday special collection support Christians in the Holy Land, as well as preserve holy sites.

Facing serious challenges

Does it seem strange to need a collection to preserve Christianity in the Holy Land? After all, Jesus was born, taught, and was sacrificed there. But Christians are facing serious challenges living their faith, challenges that we find difficult to comprehend.

Claudette Habish, of the international relief organization CARITAS, reported that Christians whose families have lived for centuries in Jerusalem are not considered citizens but "residents." Governmental restrictions limit their ability to travel to and from work and to receive medical care.

Fishermen, whose livelihood depends on the ability to search out fish, can no longer go 12 miles out to sea, but only two miles.

Number of pilgrims declines

The ravages of ongoing unrest go beyond the tragic loss of life and destruction of buildings. Sporadic violence has caused the number of pilgrims to decline precipitously. As a result, those Christians who run restaurants, hotels, and other pilgrim services have suffered enormously. For many, immigration is a heart-breaking decision.

The face of Christianity in the Holy Land has changed dramatically. In 1922, the census showed that 52 percent of the people in Palestine were Christians. Today, the Christian population there is less than two percent -- about 200,000 Christians.

Many in the United States think the Good Friday Collection only provides bricks and mortar to maintain holy shrines. The collection does do that, but, much more importantly, it provides hope for the "living stones" of the Holy Land.

Works are bearing fruit

Their faith and the good works of many in the Holy Land are bearing fruit. One such group, the Franciscans, were given custody of the holy sites in 1217. Since then, the Franciscans have been caring for the poor, educating young people, protecting holy shrines, and keeping Christianity alive. Currently, there are 29 parishes, with additional churches, chapels, and oratories.

The Franciscans support the Sts. Simeon and Anna house, in Jerusalem, dedicated to celebrating the liturgy in Hebrew for converts, along with prayers and catechesis, youth activities, and family programs. The Francpeople and schooling for 10,000 students of all faiths.

How you can help

One way to help is by taking part in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Pilgrims not only build their own faith, but provide hope to those who remain as "living stones."  

If a pilgrimage is not possible now, you can still provide hope by being generous in your donation to the Good Friday Collection. Remember, we are encouraging our Christian brothers and sisters, educating the next generation, and creating a new, hopeful future in the land of Jesus' birth.

Susanna Herro is director of the Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach for the Diocese of Madison.