Vatican City, 26 February 2013 (VIS) – Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, has sent a letter to the bishops of the world concerning the traditional Good Friday collection for the Holy Land. The letter, which also bears the signature of Archbishop Cyril Vasil S.J., secretary of the congregation, has the purpose of sensitising the Catholic Church around the world with regard to the Holy Land, and of promoting initiatives of prayer and fraternal charity towards Christians of Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine, and neighbouring countries.
“The Gospel message of compassion,” the text reads, “illumines the need for the Good Friday Collection in support of our brothers and sisters in the places of Redemption. Together with their pastors, they live the mystery of Christ, Crucified and Risen for the salvation of mankind. On account of its ecclesial dimension, this ancient duty is an ever gratifying opportunity. As Easter approaches, it is all the more appropriate as an expression of the faith that the Church, under the guidance of Pope Benedict XVI, is intensely living, on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. That event opened her to the world, at the same time rooting her still more firmly in the tradition that departs from the Christian origins. Of these the Holy Land is the silent witness and living custodian, thanks to the Latin communities of the Patriarchal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Franciscan Custody, as also to the Melkite, Maronite, Syrian, Armenian, Copt, and Chaldean faithful active there. Lately, this region is also witness to the fact that entire peoples, hungering for dignity and justice, have given wings to the dream of a springtime, the fruits of which are desired at once, as if the great, longed-for transformation could be possible without a renewal of hearts and an acceptance of a common responsibility for the poor.”
“Among the first fruits of the new awareness brought by the Council was the Encyclical 'Pacem in terris' of Blessed John XXIII, which raises in this Year of Faith a pressing call for peace, especially in Syria, whose tragic path represents a threat to the entire Near East.”
“The situation in the Middle East would seem to demand what the Servant of God Paul VI proposes in the Encyclical 'Populorum progressio'. Following his denouncement of 'the material poverty of those who lack the bare necessities of life, and the moral poverty of those who are crushed under the weight of their own self-love' (n. 21), the Pope suggests not only 'a growing awareness of other people's dignity, a taste for the spirit of poverty, an active interest in the common good, and a desire for peace', but also affirms that 'then man can acknowledge the highest values and God Himself, their author and end' (ibid). Towards that goal, the Pope does not hesitate to hold up 'above all ... faith—God's gift to men of good will—and our loving unity in Christ'. With a vision born of faith, he chose the Land of Jesus to make, in 1964, the first of his great apostolic voyages. Following in his footsteps in the year 2000, Blessed John Paul II described his pilgrimage as 'a moment of brotherhood and peace, [to be remembered] as one of the most beautiful gifts of the whole Jubilee event' and expressed his 'deeply felt desire for a prompt and just solution to the still unresolved problems of the Holy Places, cherished by Jews, Christians and Muslims together' (Novo millenio ineunte, n. 13).”
“Pope Benedict also offers us an admirable example of this same compassionate outlook. Encouraging evidence is found in his Pastoral Visit of this past September to Lebanon for the publication of the Apostolic Exhortation 'Ecclesia in Medio Oriente'; the constant mention of the region's woes in the Angelus, in his audiences, and in his Messages to various people and institutions; as well as his prayer intention for January 2013, shared with the entire Church: 'that the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance'. Finally, for this coming Good Friday, he has invited two young Lebanese Maronites to write the text for the Via Crucis procession.”
“In the widest sense, the Land of Jesus is composed of Israel and Palestine, Cyprus, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. The Christians living in all these countries must find in us the same attitude of solidarity in the faith.“
“With grateful wonder we recognize how much the generous concern of Catholics around the world has already accomplished. This assistance maintains the Holy Sites, as well as the communities that dwell there. Together with institutes of men and women religious, the funds collected provide immediate relief to the catastrophic consequences of war and other emergencies. Through a qualified network of pastoral, educational, and health care specialists, these resources come to the aid of families, often saving lives that have been rejected: the old, the sick, and the disabled. In addition, aid is provided to those without work and to youth in search of a brighter future. In every case, the collection seeks to build up human rights, especially the right to religious liberty. To this one must add the praiseworthy ecumenical and inter-religious effort, which requires stemming the incessant exodus of Christian faithful from their motherland and the accompaniment of the displaced and the refugee. Taken as a whole, this constitutes the 'Christian characteristic', which makes the region, beyond all of its suffering, a Place where God is glorified, because humanity is blessed.”
“With deep conviction the Congregation for Eastern Churches appeals to all to reconfirm their ecclesial charity in favour of the Holy Land. Together with the Pope, the Congregation thanks the pastors and faithful who, standing by the Cross of the Lord, offer their prayerful and fraternal embrace to those dwelling in the Holy Land. These have earned the gratitude of the Supreme Pastor of the Church and ours, too, for by their faithful witness in the midst of suffering, they remind the world of the consoling promise of the Risen One: 'These things I have spoken to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full' (Jn. 15:11).”
Also made public today was a report prepared by the Custody of the Holy Land (a province of the Order of Friars Minor with responsibility for the Holy Places), listing the works carried out with the proceeds of the Good Friday collection of 2012. Restoration and maintenance has been carried out on numerous shrines, churches, and convents in the Holy Land including such places as Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Magdala, Capernaum, Mount Tabor, and Mt. Nebo. Other initiatives sought to improve welcome services for pilgrims.
A significant part of the proceeds was used to fund student scholarships, to help small business, and to build houses, schools and sports centres for children. Other recipients of aid included families, parish communities, the poor, and cultural institutions.
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During these past centuries, the Popes have not only renewed their trust in the Franciscans, reconfirming them in their role as legitimate custodians of the Holy Places, which had been granted to them by the Holy See in 1342, but they have also supported them in all aspects of their lives, on the religious level, as well as on the economical, social and political one. It is enough to remember the authorizations to practice medicine in the hospital of Mount Zion in favor of sick and needy people (1) , and in the subsequent centuries (2) , the privileges, the indulgences (3) , the defense of their rights, etc. Over one hundred Papal Bulls refer to the Holy Land, as do an equal number of decrees and letters of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith that aids the sons of Saint Francis in their mission in the Holy Land (4).
A fundamental aspect of this constant support has been, and is, “the Collection for the Holy Land”, also known as “Collecta pro Locis Sanctis”. It would be too tedious to review all the interventions of the Sovereign Pontiffs in favor of the Holy Places and the needs of the Christians living in the Land of Jesus (5) . We shall limit ourselves to those of Paul VI, who through his Apostolic Exhortation Nobis In animo (The needs of the Churches in the Holy Land) (6), dated March 25, 1974, gave a decisive boost in favor of the Holy Land. The Pope, in line with his Predecessors, elevated he work of the Franciscans and insisted on the need for more cooperation from the Christian world, since, especially from the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Fransicans had increased their “social, charitable, cultural and benevolent activities” in the Holy Land and the local Christians have no means. Pope Paul VI, after pointing out that in history, the “Minor Brothers directly addressed both the great and the humble to collect alms, and the religious destined for this work received the official title of Procurators or Commissaries of the Holy Land”, remembers that in modern times, the needs have increased and, for this reason, the Popes have been concerned with the Collection “pro Terra Sancta”.
In this context, the Pope renewed the regulations given by his Predecessors and made the following dispositions:
- that in all churches a collection shall take place on Good Friday or on any other day, that shall serve the purpose of “maintaining not only the Holy Places above all, but also all pastoral, welfare, educational and social works that the Church carries out in the Holy Land to the benefit of the Christian brothers and the local population”;
- “the collection shall be delivered to the nearest Commissary of the Holy Land, whose activity, so worthy in the past, we believe – says the Pope – is still valid and functional, or it shall be delivered by any other appropriate means”;
- the Congregation for the Oriental Churches shall grant that “the Custody of the Holy Land and the local hierarchy, with respect to its competences, may continue their work, consolidate it and develop it further”.
In past decades, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches has especially been interested, on behalf of the Holy See, in demonstrating the needs of the Holy Land and the regulations issued by Paul VI, including those referring to the Commissaries (7) . In the past few years, 80% of the collections received by the Franciscans have been destined to pastoral and social work and only 20% to the Shrines. It is important to remember that the Custody receives only 65% of the Collections, while the other 35% is des ignated for other institutions that work in the Holy Land. The activities of the Latin Patriarchate, per mandate of the Holy See, are sustained by the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher and by other institutions.
(1) Cf. Urbano VI, Ad ea quae piorum (June 11, 1384).
(2) Cf. Clemente X, Cum sicut (July 7, 1670).
(3) Cf. Calixto III, Et si ex debito (January 10, 1455).
(4) Cf. P. Verniero, Chronicles. Supplement, Book IV, Chapters 52-53, in G. Golubovich, Library… IX, 148-160, mentions some of them.
(5) Cf. Among others, Martín V, Bula His quae pro ecclesiasticarum ( February 14, 1421), in Bullarium Franciscanum, t.VII, Romae 1904, n.1471, which grants “the faculty to the Custos and to the friars of Mount Zion to institute procurators or commissaries of the Holy Land, who are in charge of collecting among the faithful the necessary assets”; Calixtus III, Et si ex debito (January 10, 1455): the Pope grants power to the “Custos of Mount Zion and the friars of the Holy Land… to send friars to all parts of the world to collect alms for the preservation of the Holy Places”; Sixtus V, Nostri Officii (1589): establishes that, during three Sundays or holidays, the Ordinaries of the place shall accept offerings for the Holy Land; Urbanus VIII, Alias felices recordationes (1642), In Bullarium diplomaticum et privilegiorum…, Augusta Taurinorum 1868, t. XV, pp. 320-234, orders that a collection be done at least twice per year; Innocent X, Salvatoris et Domini Nostri (1645), in Ibid. 403-404; Pío VI, Inter cetera (July 31, 1778), who remembers the services of all sorts that the Franciscans carry out in favor of the needy; Leon XIII, Salvatoris ac Domini nostri Jesu Christi (December 26, 1887), in AOFM VII (1988) 17-18, who reduced to one day the collection that was to take place on Good Friday or any other day of the year, as per choice of the Ordinary; Pius X, Ad sublevandas Terrae Sanctae necessitates (October 23, 1913); Benedictus XV, Inclytum Fratrum Minorum conditorem (October 4, 1918), in AAS X (1918) 437-439, says that the alms collected should be delivered to the closest Commissary of the Holy Land who shall be responsible of sending them as soon as possible to the Custos; John XXIII, Sacra Palestinae Loca (April 17, 1960) , in AAS LII (1960) 388-390.
(6) Paul VI, Nobis in animo ( EV 5, 153-187; especially numbers. 171-187).
(7)Cf. S. Congregation for the Oriental Churches, "As it is known" (Collection for the Holy Land) (January 31, 1979) (EV S1, 692-695); The current year of Mary (Collection for the Holy Land) (December 9, 1987) (EV 10,2400-2403). Every year, the Congregation writes a letter, addressed to the entire Episcopate, reminding them about the duty of the collection “pro Terra Sancta” and its specific objectives.
From January 5 to 10, 2013, the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the Most Reverend Richard Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton, participated in the annual meeting of the International Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land. It involves representatives from Conferences of Bishops in Europe and North America who meet with the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (AOCTS). Archbishop Smith was accompanied by Mr. Carl Hétu, National Secretary of CNEWA-Canada. The theme of the 2013 annual meeting was “Suffering and vulnerable people in the Holy Land”.
Holy Land Coordination Final Communiqué 2013
Since the Bishops of the Holy Land Coordination gathered in January 2012, the people in this region have lived through dark and dramatic events: conflict in Gaza and southern Israel; civil war in Syria, which has resulted in huge numbers of refugees pouring into other countries and putting on an enormous strain on their resources; and increasing polarization within Israel and Palestine. These developments have caused profound anxiety for all in this region, particularly for the Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, and particularly for the dwindling Christian population.
This year we met Christian communities in Gaza, Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Madaba and Zarqa. In the Cremisan Valley we heard about legal struggles to protect local people’s lands and religious institutions from the encroachment of the Security Barrier (“the wall”). We promise to continue urging our respective governments to act to prevent this injustice. We heard moving testimony from religious women involved in the care of migrant workers, trafficked persons and prisoners.
Our faith was enriched by the strength and fortitude of the people we met: those with whom we shared in a vibrant celebration of Mass in Zarqa in Jordan; those who care for the vulnerable, like the refugees from Syria and Iraq fleeing terror and violence; those struggling in the face of oppression across the countries that make up the Holy Land. We are inspired to promote a just peace and call upon Christian communities in our home countries and people of goodwill everywhere to support the work undertaken in this region to build a better future. Good examples are two agencies we visited: Catholic Relief Services in Gaza and the Caritas refugee program in Jordan.
We are also called to recognize and tell others how faith in God brings light into the lives of people in the Holy Land. One of the ways in which this happens is the Church’s commitment to education, a tangible investment in the future. Nowhere is this more evident than in the University of Bethlehem, where we were struck by the stories from students, and the American University of Madaba in Jordan. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI called upon staff and students in the region to be builders of a just and peaceful society composed of peoples of various religious and ethnic backgrounds.
With the local Bishops, we encourage practical support for the vulnerable, the formation of young people, and every effort for the promotion of peace. We encourage Christians to come on pilgrimage to the Holy Land where they will experience the same warm hospitality we received. We shall work hard to persuade our respective governments to recognize the root causes of suffering in this land and to step up their efforts for a just peace. We echo the call Pope Benedict made recently in his speech to the Holy See’s diplomatic corps: “Following Palestine’s recognition as a non-member observer state of the United Nations, I again express the hope that, with the support of the international community, Israelis and Palestinians will commit themselves to peaceful co-existence within the framework of two sovereign states, where respect for justice and the legitimate aspirations of the two peoples will be preserved and guaranteed. Jerusalem, become what your name signifies! A city of peace, not one of division.”
In the words of one of the Psalms, which we prayed together each day: “for the peace of Jerusalem pray” (Psalm 122, verse 6).
Signatories to the Final Communiqué:
Archbishop Richard Smith – Edmonton, Canada
Archbishop Joan-Enric Vives – Urgell and Andorra, Spain
Bishop Gerald Kicanas – Tucson, USA
Bishop Stephan Ackermann – Trier, Germany
Bishop Michel Dubost – Evry, France
Bishop William Kenney – Birmingham, England and Wales
Bishop Peter Bürcher – Reykjavik, Nordic Bishops’ Conference
Bishop Declan Lang – Clifton, England and Wales.