ON THE OCCASION OF THE "COLLECTION FOR THE HOLY LAND"
It is with pleasure that I once again approach you and the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care, requesting assistance on behalf of the Christian community in the Holy Land. They, together with the inhabitants of the vast region of Middle East, continue to aspire for peace and tranquility as they have for so many years, but which hope still remains fragile.
The Universal Church is greatly preoccupied about the unstable situation in the Middle East; a situation which leads to multiple problems. First among them is the absence of peace. The joy of this Christmas has been marred, in fact, by the violence and hostility in the Gaza Strip. Several innocent children are among the innumerable victims. And the Christmas message itself has been obscured by these latest military events. This is even more unfortunate in view of the crucial spiritual and material sustenance which has been received from the Christian population of pilgrims, and whose numbers have increased significantly between the Jubilee Year 2000 and 2008.
During the course of the Synodal Assembly last October, the Patriarchs and the Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholics have expressed to the Holy Father their strong appeal for peace; an appeal inspired by the Word of God. The Apostle Paul, for example, has conveyed to us a certainty that “Christ is our peace” (Eph 2,14). The appeal was addressed to the whole world, and was made in consideration of the actual difficulties and needs of our time.
Still further, Pope Benedict XVI constantly offers comfort to the Christians and to the entire population of the Holy Land with words and gestures of profound solicitude. These are linked with his desire to visit them as a pilgrim to the historic sites related to life of Jesus. On the day of the Nativity of the Lord, and afterwards on the Solemnity of the Holy Mother of God, the Holy Father pleaded before the world for the restoration of peace in that Land. The Pontiff's concern has been expressed particularly during his meeting for the exchange of New Year greetings with the Ambassadors of the one hundred seventy-seven nations accredited to the Holy Seee. The Pontiff commented that: “The birth of Christ in the lowly stable of Bethlehem leads us naturally to think of the situation in the Middle East and, in the first place, in the Holy Land, where, in these days, we have witnessed a renewed outbreak of violence provoking immense damage and suffering for the civilian population... Once again I would repeat that military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned” (L'Osservatore Romano, January 9, 2009, p. 8).
The wound caused by the violence worsens the emigration problem, which inexorably deprives the minority Christians of resources for their future. The land which has been the cradle of Christianity risks to remain with fewer and fewer Christians.
In the General Audience of Wednesday, October 1, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI has clearly emphasized the biblical basis warranting attention to the Holy Land: “Perhaps we are no longer able to understand fully the meaning that Paul and his communities attributed to the collection for the poor of Jerusalem. It was a completely new initiative in the area of religious activities: it was not obligatory, but free and spontaneous; all the Churches that were founded by Paul in the West took part. The collection expressed the community's debt to the Mother Church of Palestine, from which they had received the ineffable gift of the Gospel”. The Pope continues: “The value that Paul attributes to this gesture of sharing is so great that he seldom calls it merely a "collection". Rather, for him it is "service", "blessing", "gift", "grace", even "liturgy" (cf. 2 Cor 9). Particularly surprising is the latter term which gives a value that is even religious to a collection of money: on the one hand it is a liturgical act or "service" offered by every community to God and, on the other, it is a loving action made for people” (L’Osservatore Romano, October 2, 2008, p. 1).
The Congregation for the Eastern Churches similarly focuses, in the name of the Holy Father, upon the ecclesial community in Holy Land, and likewise conveys the Pontiff’s loving solicitude, repeating his exhortation to all Catholics that they contribute materially as well for the necessary maintenance of the Sacred Places. It is an honor to assure you of the gratitude and prayers of the Pope towards those who carry in their heart the importance of the traditional Collection pro Terra Sancta, during the coming Good Friday. The Churches of the Latin Rite and of the different Eastern Rites which benefit from this indispensable help, acknowledge their gratitude by their constant prayer for the particular Churches throughout the world.
I have personally experienced this sentiment during my pilgrimage to the Holy Places from February 24 to March 2, 2008. This occasion revealed to me the intense desire for unity among the pastors and the faithful in the ecclesiastical mission, as well as their ecumenical and inter-religious commitment. Everywhere, I have promised the solicitude of this Dicastery and of the Church. I was then, as now, certain that all of our Catholic Bishops will generously confirm it, for such has always been demonstrated towards Jerusalem and the Land of Our Lord Jesus.
Enclosed you will please find documents for your information, prepared by this Dicastery and by the Custody of the Holy Land. These outline some of those actions undertaken through our auspices during 2008.
Along with the entire Catholic community in the Holy Places, I am delighted to invoke upon you and your collaborators the blessings of He who “loves those who are donors with joy” (2 Cor 9,7).
In the spirit of episcopal fraternity I remain,
Devotedly yours in Our Lord,
Leonardo Card. Sandri
Antonio Maria Vegli˛
CONGREGATION FOR EASTERN CHURCHES
As with every year, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches receives the Collection’s monies directly from the Apostolic Nuncios. According to its designated percentage, the Congregation then confers ordinary and extraordinary subsidies to the Ecclesiastical Circumscriptions, to the Religious Orders and to other ecclesiastical juridical persons in the Sacred Places.
Following the ususal custom, special attention was given during the year 2008 to the scholastic institutions, such as the Bethlehem University and to the Catholic Schools of various levels. Hence, the Congregation has responded to the expenses of the Secretary of Solidarity, who coordinates the scholastic activity of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
Also during the year 2008, this Dicastery has maintained its program of scholarship for priests and seminarians who belong to the Holy Places, and who study at the Pontifical Universities. These are assisted by the Central Office of Students for those from outside Italy.
Moreover, when there are meetings involving the Catholic Bishops, the Congregation promotes awareness concerning the needs of the Holy Land, and especially encourages pilgrimage. With regard to the Collection, the Dicastery manages its every aspect, in conformity with institutional directives, and while maintaining regular contact with the Custody of the Holy Land, the Apostolic Nunciatures, and the entire Hierarchy.
Order of Friars Minor
The Custos of the Holy Land in function of its centuries old mission to safeguard the Holy Sites of Redemption, officiate worship, assist pilgrims and augment apostolic works therein, in the period 2007/2008 paid particular attention to the promotion and realisation of the following projects:
1. Ain Karem
The restoration of the entrance to the Sanctuary of the Visitation. Archaeological surveys and excavations in the main front square, a complete overhaul of the water and waste conduits and the renovation of the long entrance stairwell to the Sanctuary.
The ongoing restoration project on the ancient boundary wall of the Sanctuary of St John in the Desert and the renovation of single pilgrim areas for the experience of hermitage.
Restoration project for the Convent of St. Lazarus. Overhaul of the hydro and electrical systems, resurfacing of pavements in the Convent of the Sacristy and of areas for welcoming pilgrims.
Milk Grotto: Completed (May 2007) restoration and extension of the Convent for the sisters who lend their service to the Sanctuary.
Renovation project for some areas of the Convent of St Catherine in Bethlehem including the installation of a surveillance system in the sanctuary and grotto.
Partial restoration of areas in the New House in view of the increasing number of pilgrims.
Project for seismic survey and tests on the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and the installation of a new lightening system for Holy Calvary.
Complete restoration of services for Pilgrims in the zone of the Sanctuary of Gethsemane. The start of a project to restore the Cedron Valley between the Sanctuary and the ancient walls of Jerusalem and the preparation of spaces for prayer and meditation.
Restoration of a part of the Dominus Flevit Convent and the drawing up of a project to overhaul the garden and areas for pilgrims.
Restoration project for the custodial infirmary. The restoration of areas first built in 1955 for ageing religious in need of care due to their age or illness, after a lifetime spent in service to the Holy Sites and works of the Custos of the Holy Land.
Beginning of the second stage of restoration works on St Peter’s Sanctuary in Jaffa, including a complete renovation of the Convent and spaces allocated to pastoral work for foreign workers (in Spanish, French and Polish) and for the Jewish community.
Conservation project for the archaeological area of Magdala. The restoration and consolidation of the remains unearthed following an archaeological excavation in the ‘70s. The removal, restoration and relocation on adequate support systems of mosaic floor coverings was necessary in order to protect them from atmospheric agents. A visitors route is currently being prepared that will allow pilgrims to visit the ruins that will lend itself to effectively showing life during Christ’s time in the evangelical city.
Reorganisation of the entrance routes for visitors to the Sanctuary and for processions. The project is due to conclude in December 2008. Study into feasibility of a project to roof the ancient Church Seforis (which commemorates the nativity and childhood of the Virgin); payment of the first instalment to obtain authorisation from the heritage office.
7. Sebastiya (Nablus)
Project to render buildings on the verge of collapse in the historic centre of Sebastiya structurally safe. Work is ongoing on redevelopment of the historic centre area adjacent to the mosque walls (former crusade cathedral).
8. Mount Nebo (Jordan)
First phase of recovering the fašade of the memorial Basilica of the death of the Prophet Moses: consolidation of the foundations, of the land and the laying of structural supports for the future roofing of the basilica.
Holy Sites/Local Communities
1. Work in favour of youth
Ongoing “scholarship” project, which consists of financing completion of studies for a duration of four years. This counts 300 university scholarships per annum, distributed throughout the different regional universities (Bethlehem, Hebrew in Jerusalem, Haifa, Bir Zeit, Amman and others).
(Bethlehem) ongoing project for the formation and insertion into the workplace of newly-graduated. This consists of facilitating the introduction of qualified and worthy young people to the jobs market by offering the selected companies and institutions 2/3 of the wage for a period of 12 months. In this way the young people are given the possibility of gaining work experience and the companies to get to know and train new personnel in view of possible future employment. Moreover the program provides formation courses for interns working in various fields.
(Bethlehem, Jerusalem) Ongoing project for the formation and re-introduction of unemployed people to the jobs market. It is a similar project to the aforementioned one, but has as its objective the requalification and re-introduction to the workplace of people who had previous employment in Jerusalem, but have since lost their jobs.
Ongoing project to sustain local craftwork. This consists basically of about 10 small artistic projects by procuring replacement pieces, means of production and to ensure security during production.
2. Family Activities
(Bethlehem) Ongoing projects in support of families organised by parish centres in coordination with the Franciscan Family Centre. This type of aid foresees social assistance to the principal needs of the families.
Franciscan Boy’s Home. It is home to over 20 boys between the ages of 6 and 12 who come from poor families with diverse difficulties. Beyond basic housing and education, the boys are closely followed by an educator, a social assistant and a psychologist. The project is developed in close contact with the Franciscan Family Centre.
Ongoing Healthcare project. The project is elaborated in diverse forms of medical aid and coordinates with the Franciscan Family Centre, with Caritas, and with the Bethlehem Arab society for Rehabilitation. The principal aim is to ensure families in economic difficult, partial or complete coverage of healthcare costs (cost of medicines, medical visits and hospital stays).
3. Parish Communities
(Jerusalem) Preparation for the second phase of the renovation project on the buildings of Beit Hanina’s Parish Centre. Payment of the first instalments for the restoration and extension of the church.
Nazareth Parish Centre. Completed and inaugurated the building of a parish centre for the various parish and social activities of the city’s Christian Community (almost exclusively financed by the German bishops and His Holiness Benedict XVI). Work continues on the sports centre of the young people and the preparation of recreational areas for children.
(Jaffa) A project to reorganise and prepare new areas for parish activities, the community activities and the activities of the foreign community (over twenty-two thousand faithful) for the local Parish of St Anthony.
Restoration of the third floor of the Girls school in Bethlehem. Extra classes were added during rebuilding allowing improved use of school spaces.
The installation of a heating system in the Boys school in Bethlehem.
The construction of a kindergarten in Jericho. It can cater to circa 100 infants (completed in December 2008). Work is ongoing on the restoration of the boundary wall. The project for the construction of a new school is in preparatory stages.
Complete overhaul of the fašade of the Emmaus-Qubeibeh pre-school (250 children).
5. Building of apartments for the poor and young couples
St Francis Housing project in Bethlehem. It involves the construction of 20 apartments for the same number of families, above all for young couples with a low or middle income.
The Franciscan neighbourhood in Jaffa. It includes 124 apartments for Christian families from the parish.
Housing project in Nazareth. It lies 2 kilometres from the basilica of the Annunciation. Beyond the chapel and spaces for social use, it consists of 80 apartments to answer to the housing needs of young families.
The restoration of houses in the Old City of Jerusalem. The old buildings, many dating back to the ottoman period, are often in precarious conditions and dwellers are forced to abandon them. The project foresees the progressive renovation of circa 300 homes. In the period from December 2007 to December 2008 over 30 apartments were renovated.
6. Other cultural projects
Each year the Custos of the Holy Land financially supports the Faculty of Biblical Science and Archaeology at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem. Apart from the complete financial coverage of the faculty’s activities, 30 students from diverse diocese and religious institutes are offered scholarships that guarantee bed and board for the duration of their studies.
Franciscan Media Centre. Is a new form of apostolate with the aim of transmitting the message of the Holy Land and the life of local Christian communities through television.
Magnificat Institute. In a few short years of activity the Magnificat has become a music school capable of forming musicians and involve students from diverse cultures, religions and social classes. Today there are over 210 students enrolled under the guidance of 25 maestri and professors. The Magnificat promotes research activities as well as cultural exposÚs both locally and internationally.Numerous ongoing projects in Syria and Lebanon can be added to all of the above. We would like to particularly note the building of a new Memorial to St Paul in Damascus (inaugurated June 29th last to mark the opening of the Pauline year) which marks the site traditionally held to be where the Apostle to the Gentiles was converted; the renovation of the fašade of the parish church and the Convent of St Francis (Aleppo); the building of 90 new apartments and a pre-school in Tripoli (Lebanon); the complete restoration of the church in Latakiye (old Laodicea, Syria), the nuns Convent and the pre-school in Jakubiye (Syria), and the Convent in Knaye (Syria).