Sunday Appeal, May 23
WASHINGTON (May 7, 1999) -- In the early days of Christianity, the Apostle Paul made an appeal to the Church to help the poor in Jerusalem.
Two millennia later, a similar appeal has gone out as the Mother Church of Christianity prepares for a series of extraordinary events scheduled for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. They include the planned visit of Pope John Paul II, an expected influx of Jubilee year pilgrims, and an international meeting of youth.
Such a confluence of events might challenge dioceses even in affluent parts of the world. In the Church in Jerusalem, where the number of Christians is steadily declining, they have the potential to push an already beleaguered local church into even more dire straits.
Accordingly, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, Patriarch of the Church in Jerusalem and ex officio president of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, recently turned to the Church in the United States for help.
The Patriarch's request was taken up by the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, who wrote to all Catholic Bishops in the country asking them to pitch in.
"The struggle of the Church of Jerusalem to maintain its membership is well known, due to the lack of employment and housing for Christians and other unfavorable circumstances,"
Bishop Fiorenza said. "Each year large numbers of Catholics emigrate, further depleting the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The situation is grim. In the words of the Patriarch: 'It is the eleventh hour.'"
Bishop Fiorenza noted that while the Church in the Holy Land receives financial help from many organizations, including the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, such assistance goes towards maintaining schools, clinics, orphanages, and development projects of the Church in Jerusalem. "These funds cannot be diverted to support the Jubilee needs without doing serious harm to these critically important projects," Bishop Fiorenza said.
The Patriarch, in his letter to Bishop Fiorenza, wrote: "We are now at a critical point in the history of the Christian community in the Holy Land. The Great Jubilee is upon us. We have done a great deal of planning in what you know are complex circumstances, but now we must host the world to celebrate the Great Jubilee. Because of the continued political tensions here and the economic collapse in the Palestinian areas, our resources are stretched thin. We ourselves are unable to supply the financial support for the work of the Jubilee."
Bishop Fiorenza said he brought Patriarch Sabbah's appeal to the attention of the NCCB Administrative Committee, which suggested he ask each bishop to give serious consideration to either taking up a collection for the Church in Jerusalem on the Solemnity of Pentecost (May 23), or making a generous donation to this cause. (Pentecost was selected as the time for a collection because of its special connection to Jerusalem).
"On behalf of His Beatitude, I thank you for whatever your diocesan Church is able to do to help the Mother Church of Christianity, the place of the birth of the Incarnate Word, the Son of God, celebrate the Great Jubilee of the most important event in human history," wrote Bishop Fiorenza.