By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The desecrated face of a statue of the crucified Christ in a Jerusalem church should move Catholics around the world “to recognize the pain of so many of our brothers and sisters” in the Holy Land, who have experienced the tragedy of violence and natural disasters, said a top Vatican official.
Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, prefect of the Dicastery for Eastern Churches, has written to bishops around the world asking them to urge their people to generously support the traditional Good Friday collection for the Holy Land.
Customarily, 65% of the funds collected goes to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which ministers to Christians throughout the Middle East and is responsible for most of the shrines connected with the life of Jesus, including the Church of the Flagellation where a Jewish tourist attacked a statue of Christ in early February.
The remaining 35% of the collection goes to the Dicastery for Eastern Churches and funds seminaries, advanced education for priests and nuns and Catholic schools in the Middle East, including Bethlehem University.
The ministry of the Franciscans in supporting the Christian communities of the Middle East and keeping alive the Christian faith in the region includes humanitarian aid, especially now in Syria given the devastating earthquakes that struck in February.
“To the drama of the war that has lasted for over 12 years in Syria, the strong seismic shocks added (to the) devastation caused by collapsed buildings,” Archbishop Gugerotti wrote. “Many of our brothers and sisters in faith and in humanity have faced a new exodus from their homes, this time no longer for fear of bombs or for what the invasion of the Plain of Nineveh had meant in Iraq, but because their very houses trembled.”
Franciscan communities in the region, along with those of other religious orders, are offering shelter and food to those displaced by the earthquakes, he said.
Throughout the region, he said, the Franciscans “remain sources of hope by caring for the littlest ones, educating schoolchildren and youth, accompanying mothers in difficulty, attending to the elderly and the sick, as well as offering housing projects for new families and creating jobs,” so that living Christian communities can remain in the places where Jesus and the apostles lived.
Releasing the archbishop’s appeal March 24, the Vatican also published a summary report, which said just over $9 million was collected in 2022.
In addition to support of the Jesuit-run Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, a school of advanced studies in Eastern Christian theology, liturgy and canon law, the dicastery used its share to support scholarships for 252 students in Rome and to support regular church life in Jerusalem, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
The Franciscan Custody’s report was divided into categories of funds used for pilgrim facilities, for benefiting the local community, for assisting refugees and residents on the Greek island of Rhodes, for providing emergency and development aid to people in Syria and Lebanon and for helping pay the salaries of employees in Israel and Palestine to offset losses incurred because the COVID-19 pandemic meant that international pilgrimages were stopped or slowed.