I write about the desperate needs of our two hundred thousand Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. This small Christian community traces its roots back to the origins of our faith and is often affectionately referred to as the Mother Church. They need our help.
In 1998, the Holy See asked the Catholic bishops' conferences of North America and Europe to form the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land. The Coordination visits the Holy Land annually to express solidarity with a Church caught in the midst of a longstanding conflict and to work for a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
The Coordination calls on the "people of God" in their home countries to take action on four P's to strengthen the Mother Church and to promote a just peace:
- pray for the Mother Church of Jerusalem,
- go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land,
- persuade political leaders to work for a just peace, and
- support projects to strengthen the local Church.
You can learn more about these actions on the Holy Land website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: www.usccb.org/holyland.
The conflict in the Holy Land has taken a terrible toll on the vulnerable Christian community. Most of the indigenous Christians are Palestinian, and a majority of Palestinians are unemployed in an economy devastated by conflict, curfews, and road closures that make movement and commerce between towns in the Palestinian Territories next to impossible. Security regulations sometimes make even the delivery of humanitarian aid by agencies such as Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and Caritas unimaginably difficult. The lack of economic opportunity has led to emigration from the Holy Land and a dramatic decline in the number of Christians living there.
The Christians of the Holy Land call for our solidarity and support: spiritual, moral and financial. They need Catholics in this country to give voice to their suffering and to urge our own government to do all that it can to end the violence and bring about a just peace that guarantees a secure and recognized Israel and a viable, independent Palestinian state. They also are sorely in need of financial support for emergency relief, job creation, and rehabilitation for war-damaged homes. They need support, too, for Catholic schools and parishes, which have not escaped the destructive impact of the current crisis. And they and all the people of the Holy Land need our constant prayers.
The Catholic and ecumenical agencies listed at the end of this article are deeply engaged in the Holy Land. You can help both Christians and all those suffering hardship in the Holy Land through programs which provide emergency aid, promote reconstruction, create jobs, help revive the local economy, and help sustain the local Church.
The unresolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict has put the ancient Christian communities of the Holy Land in peril. The number of Christians in the Holy Land is dwindling as many with the means to do so emigrate in response to the political and economic conditions. These Christians are the descendants and inheritors of the early Christians. Their presence around the Holy Sites ensures that these holy places remain living communities of faith rather than bare, stony museums and markers. They are the living stones of the Holy Land, and they look especially to Catholics in the United States to support them in their time of trial. I am committed to helping them. I hope you will too.
Organizations serving social, spiritual, and economic needs in the Holy Land include:
Catholic Relief Services
Catholic Near East Welfare Association
Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land
The Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation