The Holy Land may turn into a museum or an architectural remembrance, archbishop warns

The custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton, walks through empty Bethlehem streets during the solemn entrance to the Basilica of the Nativity on Jan. 6, 2024. / Credit: Marinella Bandini

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 29, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The archbishop of Toledo and primate of Spain, Francisco Cerro Chávez, stressed in a recent letter the need to support the Christians in the Holy Land, even more so during this time of war, given the danger that “it may become a museum, just an archaeological remembrance.”

In his letter, titled “The Holy Land Urgently Needs Us in Time of War,” the prelate made a strong appeal for support for the Christian witness in the region.

Specifically referencing the Pontifical Good Friday Collection to support the work of the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land, Cerro said that “at this time it would be a sin of omission not to do it.” 

The archbishop recounted his recent phone calls to Franciscans in charge of the holy places, who have informed him of the difficulties they and the people they serve are facing.

In his letter and as part of the effort, Cerro also called for the renewal of pilgrimages to the Holy Land and greater participation by the faithful in these pilgrimages.

What is the Pontifical Good Friday Collection?

Through the Pontifical Good Friday Collection for the Holy Land, held in parishes throughout the world for centuries, “Christians around the world have been doing their utmost for the presence of their brothers and sisters in the land of Jesus.”

The collection is “a day of universal solidarity with the Church in Jerusalem,” states the website of the Custody of the Holy Land, which is run by the Franciscans.

Fifty years ago, in his 1974 apostolic exhortation Nobis in Animo, Pope Paul VI explained that the Catholic community in the Holy Land “throughout history has undergone countless trials and has been subject to painful vicissitudes: internal divisions, persecutions from outside and, for some time, emigration has made it weak, no longer self-sufficient, and therefore in need of our understanding and our moral and material help.”

If the presence of Christians “were to disappear, the fervor of a living testimony would be extinguished in the shrines, and the Christian holy places of Jerusalem and the Holy Land would become similar to museums,” the pontiff first noted at that time.

Therefore the pope exhorted that “in all churches and in all oratories, belonging to both the diocesan and religious clergy, once a year — on Good Friday or on another day designated by the local ordinary — together with the particular prayers for our brothers of the Church of the Holy Land, let a collection be taken up, equally intended for them.” 

Custos of the Holy Land: ‘Help us’

In his message for the Good Friday collection for the Holy Land, the custos of the holy places, Friar Francesco Patton, emphasized that the outbreak of war in October 2023 “once again blocked the flow of pilgrims, prevented our children from attending school for long periods, and left many of our Christians in the Holy Land unemployed, especially in Bethlehem and Palestine, but also in the Old City of Jerusalem and in Israel.” 

For the maintenance of the places in the land where Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again and for the different educational, charitable, and human development works carried out by the Catholic Church, “the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land become beggars, and we turn to you so that Good Friday may be a day of universal solidarity, a day on which Christians from all over the world take concrete care of the Mother Church of Jerusalem, which at this moment is in dire need of it,” the custos appealed. 

“Please open your hearts and help us according to your possibilities,” he concluded.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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