LETTER TO THE CATHOLIC HIERARCHY
ON THE OCCASION OF THE "COLLECTION FOR THE HOLY LAND"
Summary Report for Funds Distributed during 2008-2009
The preparation for Easter once again launches the appeal to the Pastors of the universal Church to support the Holy Land by offering prayers, attentive participation and practical generosity.
Sensitivity to the needs of the Church in Jerusalem and in the Middle East finds its motivation in the "we" of the Church. This sensitivity becomes help, like the relief sent to the brethren who lived in Judea (Acts 11:29-30); remembrance, like St Paul’s invitation in his Letter to the Galatians (2:10), and a collection that responds to precise practical instructions (1 Cor 16:1-6) and is described as the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints (2 Cor 8-9 and Rom 15).
Our appeal this year is inspired by the pilgrimage "in the historical footsteps of Jesus" which the Holy Father Benedict XVI made last May.
I had the honor of accompanying him and of sharing the pastoral, ecumenical and interreligious concern that enlivened his words and actions.
Together with the ecclesial community of Israel and Palestine I listened to "a voice" of brotherhood and peace.
Strongly emphasizing the ceaseless problem of emigration, His Holiness recalled that "in the Holy Land there is room for everyone"! And he urged the authorities to support the Christian presence but at the same time assured the Christians of this land of the Church’s solidarity.
At Holy Mass in Bethlehem, he then encouraged the baptized to be "a bridge of dialogue and constructive cooperation in the building of a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration" so that the local Churches might be "workshops of dialogue, tolerance and hope, as well as of solidarity and practical charity".
The Year for Priests involves the beloved priests and seminarians of the whole Church, together with their respective Bishops, in a commitment to the Holy Places. Let us, therefore, return in our hearts to the Upper Room in Jerusalem where the Teacher and Lord "loved us to the end"; to that place where the Apostles with the Holy Mother of the Risen Crucified One experienced the first Pentecost. We firmly believe in the "flame" of the Holy Spirit "which is never extinguished" and which the Living One spreads in abundance. And let us work tirelessly to guarantee a future to Christians in the place where "the kindness and humanity" of Our God and Father first appeared.
The Pope has entrusted to the Congregation for the Eastern Churches the task of keeping alive interest in that blessed Land. In his name I urge everyone to reinforce the solidarity that has been shown so far. In fact, the Christians of the East have a responsibility that belongs to the universal Church, in other words the responsibility to preserve the "Christian origins", the places and people who are the sign of them, so that those origins may always be the reference of the Christian mission, the measure of the ecclesial future and its security. They therefore deserve the support of the entire Church.
I enclose an informative document that illustrates all that the Custody of the Holy Land has been able to achieve with the 2009 Collection (enclosure 1). And I recall that it is always thanks to the annual Collection that various interventions can be carried out by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and by the Eastern Catholic Churches in Israel and in Palestine.
I pray the Lord that he may lavishly reward those who love the Land that gave birth to him: it must remain, thanks to the "lively and youthful Church" which works there, a witness down the centuries to the great works of salvation.
In communion with the pastors and Christians of the Holy Land, I wish you an Easter filled with divine blessings.
Leonardo Card. Sandri
Cyril Vasil’, S.J.
THE CUSTOS OF THE HOLY LAND
Order of Friars Minor
Summary Report 2008/2009
In fulfilling its age-old mission to safeguard the Holy Places of the Redemption, to officiate at worship in these places, to assist pilgrims and to build up apostolic works, in the years 2008/2009 the Custody of the Holy Land gave special attention to promoting and implementing the following projects and works:
I. Holy Places/Pilgrims
1. Ain Karem
· Completion of the restoration of the entrance to the Shrine of the Visitation. Archaeological investigations and excavations in the main square, total renovation of water and waste pipes, restoration of the long flight of steps that gives access to the Shrine.
· Completion of the project at the Shrine of St John in the Desert for the restoration of the ancient boundary wall and of several places for the reception of pilgrims desirous of a hermitage experience. Renewal of the entire electrical system.
- Completion of the project for the restoration of the Convent of St Lazarus. Renewal of the electrical and plumbing systems and renovation of the floors in the Convent, in the sacristy and in the areas for the reception of pilgrims.
- Project for the renewal of the lighting system in the Church of St Catherine, Bethlehem, together with the repainting of the whole church.
- Continuation of the restoration of the rooms in the Casa Nova with a view to the increasing number of pilgrims arriving.
- Project for the restoration of the Chapel of the True Cross in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher and the installation of a new system for the protection of the walls.
- Project for the restructuring of the Kedron Valley between the Shrine and the walls of ancient Jerusalem, preparation of areas for the reception of pilgrims, for prayer and for meditation. The construction of two new complexes of services for the use of pilgrims.
- Preparation for the celebration of Holy Mass, celebrated by the Holy Father in the Kedron Valley.
- Restoration of the windows of the Basilica of the Nations. Preparation of the project for the restoration of the roof of the Basilica and the mosaics.
- Restoration of the Dominus Flevit Convent and of the project for restructuring the garden and areas for the reception of pilgrims.
- Completion of the second phase of the restoration of the Shrine of St Peter at Jaffa, consisting in the total renewal of the Convent’s interior and of areas for pastoral activities for Spanish-, French- and Polish-speaking foreign workers and for the Hebrew-speaking community.
- Start of the project for the restoration of the St Anthony Convent in Jaffa.
- Conservation project in the archaeological area of Magdala. Restoration and consolidation of the remains found on the archaeological campaign in the 1970s. It also became necessary to lift, restore and transfer the pavement mosaics to adequate supports to protect them from atmospheric damage. A visitors’ itinerary is being prepared, specifically designed to illustrate daily life in the town at the time of Jesus.
- Complete restoration of the auditorium where His Holiness Benedict XVI was to hold a meeting with the religious leaders of Galilee. Preparation of the celebration at which the Pope presided in the upper Church. Completion of the restoration of the access routes for visits to the Shrine and for processions.
- Continuation of the restoration of the Grotto of the Annunciation.
- Preparation of the project for the roofing of the ancient church in Sephoris (which recalls the nativity and childhood of the Virgin); payment of the upcoming fees for permits to be obtained from the antiquities authority.
8. Mount Nebo, Jordan
- First phase of the work on the restoration of the Basilica, the memorial of the death of the Prophet Moses: consolidation of the foundations and of the site and installation of structures to support the roofing of the Basilica.
9. Mount Tabor
- Preparation of a project for a new parking lot and for the restoration of the access routes to the Shrine, of the large terrace over the sacristy and of the stained-glass windows in the crypt of the church.
- Restoration of some rooms in the Convent.
- Preparation of the project for the construction of the new Convent in the Shrine of Nain where Jesus raised the only son of the widow. In addition to the building of new accommodation, the project includes the restoration of the existing church, archaeological excavations and the reordering of the whole area for the reception of pilgrims.
II. Holy Places/Local Communities
1. Institutions for youth
- Continuation of the “Scholarships” project, which consists in providing full funding for studies over four years. There are 350 university scholarships per year, distributed in the universities of the region (Bethlehem, the Hebrew Universities in Jerusalem and Haifa, Bir Zeit, Amman and others).
- Continuation of the Support for Craft Enterprises project. It consists in supporting about 10 small craft enterprises with the purchase of spare parts, production equipment and aids to ensure the security of the activities.
2. Family-oriented activities
- (Bethlehem) Continuation of the project for the support of families organized by the Parish Aid Center and in coordination with the Franciscan Family Center (Parish Family Counseling Center). This type of aid includes social assistance to families in need.
- Franciscan Children’s Home. It takes in more than 20 children from 6 to 12 years old who come from poor families with a variety of problems. As well as being given hospitality and help in their studies, the children are supervised by an educator, a social worker and a psychologist. The project is carried out in close collaboration with the Franciscan Family Center.
- Continuation of the Medical Assistance project. The project takes care of various aspects of health care and is coordinated with the Franciscan Family Center, Caritas and the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation. The main objective is to provide families in financial difficulty with full or partial coverage of medical expenses (purchase of medicines, visits to the doctor and hospitalization).
- Project for the restoration of houses or apartments that belong to the neediest families. The restoration work is carried out by unemployed workmen. In addition to the assistance to families, dozens of jobs are regularly created.
3. Parish communities
- (Jerusalem) Preparation of the second phase of the renovation project for the buildings of the Beit Hanina Parish Center. Payment of the bills for the restoration and enlargement of the church.
- Parish Center in Nazareth. With the completion and inauguration of a newly built parish center in Nazareth for the various parish and social activities of the Christian community in the town (almost completely funded by the German bishops and by His Holiness Benedict XVI), work continues with the construction of sports grounds for the young and the preparation of play areas for children.
- (Jaffa) Project for the reorganization and preparation of new spaces for the parish activities of the local community and for the foreign communities (over twenty thousand faithful) for the local St Anthony Parish.
- (Ramle) Enlargement and restoration of the existing school.
5. Construction of apartments for the poor and for young couples
- The Franciscan Neighborhood in Jaffa. There are 124 apartments for Christian families in the parish. The final building permits have been obtained and paid for.
- Housing Project in Nazareth. This is located 2 km from the Basilica of the Annunciation. In addition to a chapel and several buildings for social use, about 80 apartments are planned in response to the young families’ need for homes.
- The restoration of houses in the Old City of Jerusalem continues. These old dwellings which often date back to the Ottoman period are all too often in precarious conditions that oblige the inhabitants to leave. The project provides for a gradual renewal of about 300 houses. In the period from December 2008 to December 2009, more than 80 apartments have been renovated.
6. Other cultural institutions
- Every year the Custody of the Holy Land gives financial support to the Faculty of Biblical Sciences and Archaeology of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem. In addition to the full support of the Faculty’s activities, about 30 students from different dioceses and religious institutes are offered scholarships that guarantee them food and lodging for the whole of their study period.
- Franciscan Media Center. This is a new kind of apostolate whose aim is to broadcast through television networks the message of the Holy Places and the life of the local Christian communities.
- Magnificat Institute. In its few years of activity, the Magnificat has become a music school capable of training students from different cultural and religious backgrounds. Today more than 180 young people are enrolled, directed by 16 teachers. The Magnificat encourages research activities and local and international cultural events.
To all this must be added numerous interventions in Syria and Lebanon. We point out in particular the rebuilding of the Parish Church and Convent of St Francis, Aleppo, which was completed in October 2009; the construction of 90 apartments and a nursery school in Tripoli, Lebanon, which is underway; the complete restoration of the convent in Tripoli, of the church in Latakiye, Syria, of the sisters’ house and of the nursery school in Jakubiye, Syria.