VATICAN CITY, 25 MAR 2009 (VIS) - Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, has sent a letter to the bishops of the world encouraging them to participate in the collection for the Holy Land, which traditionally takes place on Good Friday.
In the letter, which also bears the signature of Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, then secretary of the same congregation, now president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, the two prelates express the Church's "profound concern" for the position of Christians, particularly following the conflict in Gaza.
They also underline how Benedict XVI "constantly comforts Christians, and all the inhabitants of the Holy Land, with special words and gestures, coupled with his desire to make a pilgrimage in the historical footsteps of Jesus".
"The wounds opened by violence make the problem of emigration more acute, inexorably depriving the Christian minority of its best resources for the future. The Land that was the cradle of Christianity risks ending up without Christians".
Cardinal Sandri and Archbishop Veglio make an appeal to help "our Christian brothers and sisters of the Holy Land who, along with other inhabitants of vast areas of the Middle East, have long aspired after that peace and tranquillity which are still so much under threat".
The Congregation for the Oriental Churches interprets the Pope's "loving solicitude" for the ecclesial community in the Holy Land, "again exhorting all Catholics to contribute, also with material resources, to the upkeep of the Holy Sites".
The prefect and secretary of the dicastery give assurances that "Churches of the Latin rite and of the various Eastern rites, which benefit from this vital aid, express their recognition with constant prayers for the particular Churches of the whole world".
A document drawn up by the Custody of the Holy Land and a note from the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, details the projects undertaken using the 2008 collection.
Apart from providing study grants for priests and seminarians from the Holy Land to study in pontifical universities, various restoration projects were carried out in, among other places: Jerusalem, Bethany, Bethlehem, Haifa, Magdala, Nazareth and Nablus (the Shechem of antiquity). Funds were also distributed to support parishes, families, schools and universities, and - through the Custody of the Holy Land - to various cultural projects, such as the faculty of biblical sciences and archaeology of the "Studium Biblicum Franciscanum" in Jerusalem.
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has published a special prayer for Benedict XVI's forthcoming pilgrimage to the Holy Land from 8 to 15 May, in the hope that "this visit will be for the Holy Land a moment of renewal and a time of particular grace".
His Beatitude Fouad Twal Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church's annual Collection for the Holy Land helps maintain Christian sites in the Holy Land, provides care for aged religious who spent their lives ministering in the land of Jesus and supports projects that help native Christians remain and thrive in the region.
Cardinal Luigi Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, appealed to bishops around the world to encourage parishes in their dioceses to support the collection, which traditionally is taken up during Good Friday services.
The Catholic communities in the Holy Land face serious problems; "the first is the absence of peace," the cardinal said in his letter, which was published in Italian in the March 25 edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
In the past year, he said, "the joy of Christmas was wounded by the violent resurgence of hostilities in the Gaza Strip. Among the numerous victims were many completely innocent children."
Pope Benedict XVI is among the first "to constantly comfort the Christians and all inhabitants of the Holy Land with words and gestures of extraordinary care," the cardinal said, and "his desire to go on pilgrimage in the footsteps of Jesus" is a clear sign of how important the Holy Land is to the church.
"The open wound caused by the violence worsens the problem of emigration, which inexorably deprives the Christian minority of its best resources for the future. The land that was the cradle of Christianity risks ending up without Christians," the cardinal wrote.
Cardinal Sandri said that, in an October general audience talk about the writings of St. Paul, Pope Benedict spoke about how almost 2,000 years ago the apostle initiated a collection for struggling Christians in Jerusalem.
"The collection expressed the community's debt to the mother church of Palestine, from which they had received the ineffable gift of the Gospel," the pope had said during the audience.
Along with his letter, Cardinal Sandri sent the world's bishops a report on some of the projects funded with help from the annual collection. They included:
-- The restoration, maintenance and improvement of visitor facilities at the Shrine of the Visitation in Ain Karem, at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and at the archaeological site of the ancient town of Magdala.
-- Improvements to a home in Jerusalem for aged religious who have dedicated their lives to serving Christians and pilgrims in the Holy Land.
-- Providing 300 scholarships for students attending the Catholic-run Bethlehem University in the West Bank or Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israeli universities in Haifa or Bir Zeit, or the university in Amman, Jordan.
-- Continuing a program that helps new university graduates enter the job market by teaming up with companies and paying part of the new graduates' salaries during their first year of employment.
-- Retraining workers who have lost their jobs and supporting artisans.
-- Supporting the Franciscan Family Center in Bethlehem and its work with poor families, with children experiencing a variety of difficulties and in the field of health care.
-- Assisting parishes in the region restore their churches or build classrooms and meeting facilities.
-- Helping young Catholic families buy or remodel apartments as an encouragement to stay in the Holy Land.
-- Supporting the Franciscan Biblical Institute, the Franciscan Media Center and the Magnificat Institute, a school of sacred music, in Jerusalem.