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The lack of pilgrimages is also a lack of income for Christians

“The pilgrimages will not resume on a regular basis before Christmas” announces Brother Stéphane Milovitch, Franciscan Vice-Treasurer for the Custody of the Holy Land. Pilgrimages and their income are decisive factors for the survival of most Christian institutions in the Holy Land, which is why the Good Friday collection, postponed exceptionally to Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 September, will be essential.

By Emilie Rey, Commissariat of the Holy Land

Shrines are free places, images of Christ who gave himself freely for the salvation of all. We live on the charity and generosity of pilgrims – most notably collections and mass intentions. Up to now our communities have used their reserves to cover the current expenses, but the situation risks becoming critical,” says Brother Stéphane Milovitch, Vice-Treasurer of the Custody of the Holy Land in charge of human resources.

Due to its history and establishment in the country, the Custody has always been a provider of jobs for local Christians. “Currently, in the Holy Land but also in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Cyprus or even Argentina, we employ just over 1100 people, mostly in schools, Casa Nova (homes for pilgrims) and shrines.” If on the Israeli side, the state was able to implement short-term working arrangements, this is not the case for its Palestinian neighbour. “We therefore decided to pay 50% of the salaries to our employees living in the Territories. We could not abandon them overnight. I do not know how long we can continue at this rate. Every day, several employees knock at my door, simple people who without pay will be forced to live in uncertain conditions.  We try as much as possible to place them in a different job or to keep them on with reduced hours.”

According to World Bank estimates, the number of poor households in the Palestinian Territories is expected to jump by 15-30% by the end of the year. So Catholic parishes roll up their sleeves, distribute food parcels, and help with the financing of studies or the payment of rents ... and, in an innovative initiative, appeal to the generosity of religious congregations present in the Holy Land.

Brother Amjad Sabara, o.f.m., parish priest of Jerusalem began this. “We quickly set up an emergency committee and then asked men and women’s religious congregations to support a charitable fund to the tune of 75 euros per month.” Congregations have responded positively, although some also face real difficulties. But his biggest surprise came from the Christian families themselves. “A hundred of them have stepped forward.  Of course, the donations are small, but they affirm the parish’s solidarity; and, for me, this is the most important thing.” Although he wants to remain hopeful, Jerusalem’s parish priest makes no secret of his concern about the lack of a Good Friday collection.

“This year, there was no Good Friday liturgy anywhere in the world, and so there was no Holy Land collection,” stresses Brother Stéphane. It is, however, thanks to this special collection that many schools, universities, retirement homes, parishes, seminaries, centres of social assistance and medical clinics operate... These are essential places that the local population will not be able to maintain on their own. “Should we have to stop these activities because there are not sufficient funds?” he questions a bit defiantly. “It is one thing to live the present moment and to take emergency measures, it is another thing to think about the future and stability of the Christian presence in this land.”

Fortunately, the Pope was quick to announce his decision: the special collection for the Holy Land (“pro Terra Sancta”) was postponed to Saturday, September 12 or Sunday, September 13, the vigil of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. That announcement was a relief for Brother Roger Marchal, Commissary of the Holy Land in Paris. “This collection is an opportunity to experience a true “communion”, to experience the “big vision” that Pope Francis so often speaks about in his homilies.  To realize that we have a “common” future is to enter into the dynamics of reciprocity, to recognize our unity as Christians. We should be bold enough to say that we need Christians in the Holy Land as much as they need us! For months, they have been praying for our intentions in the very place of the Resurrection, they are the lungs of this land. So, I invite all the faithful to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land on Sunday, with however small a donation, on September 13th.”

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Commissariat of the Holy Land in Canada

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