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Support for Holy Land Christians

22 Mar 2011 – by Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Helping Christians in the Holy Land with concrete material and spiritual support is a fundamental part of bringing peace to the region, said Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

Unfortunately there is a “sorrowful tendency of Christian emigration which impoverishes the entire area, draining it of the most vital forces constituted by the young generations,” he said in a written appeal to bishops around the world.

The letter, released to journalists March 21, is sent every year to bishops to encourage parishes in their dioceses to support the Holy Land collection, which traditionally is taken up during Good Friday services.

Cardinal Sandri, who coordinates the Holy Land collection, said there has been an increasing number of pilgrims to the Holy Land thanks in part to Pope Benedict XVI's visit there in 2009 and the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East in 2010.

However, despite the “few positive signs” in the region, escalating violence continues against Christians, who are experiencing real martyrdom and “suffering because of instability or the absence of peace,” the letter said.

Pope Benedict urges the universal church to encourage and support Christians in the Holy Land, it said.

“This appeal for the collection is inherent in the cause of peace, of which the brothers and sisters of the Holy Land desire to be effective instruments in the hands of the Lord for the good of the whole” region, it said.

Along with Cardinal Sandri’s appeal, the Vatican published a report on the projects funded in 2009-2010 in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

Many of the projects combine archaeological studies and restoration of Christian shrines with the improvement of pilgrim facilities and convents at the same site.

Similar, but more extensive work is going on in Magdala, the presumed home of Mary Magdalene. The work includes preserving some mosaic floors and building a pilgrim itinerary designed to illustrate daily life in the town at the time of Jesus.

Funds collected around the world help support university scholarships for Christian students in the region, craft-making businesses, social and medical services for the poor, financial assistance to struggling parishes and schools and a project to build apartments for poor families and young couples.

In addition, the collection helps support the faculty of biblical sciences and archaeology at a Franciscan-run institute in Jerusalem, the Franciscan Media Center and the Magnificat Institute, a music school for students from different cultures.