The Vatican has called on Catholics around the world to give generously to the traditional Good Friday collection for the Holy Land.
“The annual Lenten journey towards the Pasch of the Lord offers a propitious occasion to sensitize the Catholic Church around the world with regard to the Holy Land by promoting relevant initiatives of prayer and fraternal charity,” said Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, in a letter sent to the bishops around the world on March 1.
The annual collection goes not only towards the Church in Israel and Palestine, but also to Christians in the surrounding states of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and Egypt. Recent political upheaval in the region is creating an uncertain future for many Christians in these lands.
It was in this part of the world, Cardinal Sandri reminded the bishops, that “the Son of God made man” traveled, “announcing the Kingdom” before going up “to the Holy City” to be crucified.
From that time, he added, “every Christian finds himself at home in that city and in that land.”
Cardinal Sandri also reminded the bishops of the “unceasing request of Pope Benedict XVI that the mission of the Church in the holy places be generously supported.”
Last month, the Pope told a gathering of 182 ambassadors to the Holy See of his concern “for the people of those countries where hostilities and acts of violence continue, particularly Syria and the Holy Land.”
Pope Benedict also used a Sunday Angelus address to issue a “the pressing appeal to put an end to the violence ... for the common good of the whole of society and the region.”
Cardinal Sandri spoke of the urgent need to support the “schools, medical assistance, critical housing, meeting places” and other such social services which the Catholic Church provides “to all, without exception,” in the region.
By offering its charity to all religious groups, the Church thus helps create a form of “fraternity” which can help “overcome division and discrimination” and give “renewed impetus to ecumenical dialogue and interreligious collaboration.”
As for the plight of the Christian minority in the region, “Good Friday seems more fitting than ever as a sign of the needs of both pastors and the faithful, which are bound up with the sufferings of the entire Middle East,” he said.
Many of the countries in the region have witnesses a dwindling of their Christian populations in recent years due to emigration. Cardinal Sandri said this exodus is “exacerbated by the lack of peace, which tends to impoverish hope.”
His comments came on the day that a report was published detailing how the money from last year’s Good Friday collection was spent. The report was produced by the Custody of the Holy Land, a branch of the Franciscan order with responsibility for the holy places.
It explained how the 2011 Good Friday funds were used to restore and maintain numerous shrines, churches and convents in the Holy Land, including such places as Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Magdala and Mount Tabor.
A significant part of the proceeds were also used to fund student scholarships, to help small business, and to build houses, schools and play areas for children.
Cardinal Sandri concluded his letter with the hope that Pope Benedict’s upcoming Year of Faith will be an opportunity for Christians worldwide to “restore the spiritual patrimony which we have received from these Christians’ two millennia of fidelity to the truth of the faith.”
This can be done, he said, through “prayer, by concrete assistance and by pilgrimages.”
As for his prayer for this year’s Good Friday, he asked that “around the cross of Christ, let us be conscious of being together with these brothers and sisters of ours.”