ON THE OCCASION OF THE "COLLECTION FOR THE HOLY LAND"
The season of Lent, as a journey with Christ towards the Cross and Resurrection, always reawakens our sense of brotherhood with those living in the Holy Places. It was there that the Apostles first heard the voice of the Lord Jesus, were made partakers by grace in the Mystery, and then began to announce it with the witness of their lives. Around them the first Christian communities began to blossom, beginning from Jerusalem.
Again this year our unity in Christ the Redeemer urges us to promote this important initiative, the Collection for the Holy Land, and so to fulfill the debt of the Universal Church to that Mother Church. Pope Francis confirmed this view, as he received the Patriarchs, Major Archbishops, Cardinal Fathers and Bishops in the Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches: “My thoughts turn in a special way to the Holy Land where Christ lived, died and rose again. In that land – I heard it today, too, from the voice of the Patriarchs present –the light of faith is not extinguished, indeed it shines resplendent. It is ‘the light of the East’ which ‘has illumined the universal Church, from the moment when «a rising sun» appeared above us (cf. Lk 1:78): Jesus Christ, our Lord’ (Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, n. 1). Every Catholic therefore owes a debt of thanks to the Churches that live in that region. From these Churches we may learn, among other things, the effort of the daily exercise of the spirit of ecumenism and of interreligious dialogue. The geographical, historical and cultural context in which they have lived for centuries has indeed made them natural interlocutors with numerous other Christian confessions and with other religions” (21 November 2014).
The Collection is still today the principal source which sustains the life and works of the region’s Christians, in response to the ardent desire of the Supreme Pontiffs, who, especially on the occasion of Good Friday, have always recommended concrete acts of authentic fraternal charity.
Every day the Christians in various regions of the Middle East ask themselves whether they should remain or emigrate: they live in danger and often suffer violence only for the fact of professing the faith common to them and us. Every day there are brothers and sisters of ours who resist, choosing to remain in the place where God carried out in Christ the plan of universal reconciliation. From that Land, in obedience to the word of Christ, the Gospel has been carried to the four corners of the globe. Consequently, there, also, at her roots the Church must ever discover the “great hope” that the Name of Jesus brings.
Nonetheless, the present situation is truly precarious. It suffices to think of the tensions between Israel and Palestine, of the unsettled situation of Egypt, of the ongoing tragedy in Syria. This Good Friday we would like to raise up to the Crucified the cry of peace for Jerusalem but also for the whole world, that, beginning from the Land of Jesus, it may become the City of Peace. Disciples of Christ are asked to work for peace mindful that “Wars are a concrete refusal to pursue the great economic and social goals that the international community has set itself” (Pope Francis, Message for the World Day of Peace 2014). These are words which take on a clear and precise meaning in relation to today’s Collection for the Holy Land. The burdensome situation of social upheaval, and indeed of open war, has worsened, upsetting at every level the fragile balance in the region and pouring out on Lebanon and Jordan a river of refugees which overflows the increasingly inadequate camps set up to welcome them. One can only be stunned by the number of kidnappings and killings of Christians in Syria and elsewhere, by the destruction of churches, houses and schools. All this only increases the exodus of Christians and the scattering of their families and communities.
So many brothers and sisters in the faith are writing a page in the history of the “ecumenism of blood”. We, too, wish to be close at the side of those whom suffering is drawing together.
Thanks to the Good Friday Collection, the various Catholic communities of the Holy Land, from the Latin Patriarchal Diocese of Jerusalem, the Franciscan Custody and the other circumscriptions, to the representatives of the Eastern Churches – Greek-Melkite, Copt, Maronite, Syrian, Chaldean, Armenian – with their innumerable religious families and organizations of every sort, will receive a contribution with which to stay close to the poor and suffering without distinction of creed or ethnicity. Parishes will be able to keep their doors open to the needy, as will the schools, where Christians and Muslims prepare together for a future of respect and collaboration. Likewise, the hospitals, clinics and other assistance centers will be able to continue helping all in need, so that in the midst of these unsettling times, thanks to ecclesial charity, the words of Jesus will resound: “Take heart… have no fear!” (Mk. 6:50).
In this way, in a spirit of anticipation, we will be able to accompany Pope Francis who is preparing to become a pilgrim of unity and peace to the Holy Land. His visit is much desired and very necessary. May it strengthen the faith of the Christians, making them ever more capable of mercy, forgiveness and love.
To You and to the Priests, Religious and Lay faithful who will take trouble to ensure the success of this Collection, I have the joy of transmitting the lively thanks of the Holy Father Francis, along with the gratitude of the entire Congregation for the Oriental Churches. At the same time I invoke upon you God’s abundant blessings.
With my cordial best regards in the Lord Jesus,
Leonardo Card. Sandri
Cyril Vasil’, S.J.