Catholics of the archdiocese should use the opportunity to help those in need by contributing to the annual collection taken on Good Friday in parishes on behalf of Christians in the Holy Land.
Archbishop John Nienstedt, writing recently to priests and deacons in support of the collection, noted how important it is that “we, as fellow Christians, show our solidarity with those who are suffering for their faith, especially for those living in the Holy Land.”
The funds are used for pastoral work and social services — including education, medical assistance and housing — in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus, Egypt and Syria.
The Christians of Syria — where St. Paul evangelized and the church dates back to the first century of Christianity — have been among those suffering the greatest in recent months. Hundreds of Syrian Christians were among a wave of refugees entering Jordan to escape the ongoing violence between government and rebel forces, according to a Catholic News Service report earlier this month. About 200 more Christians had been killed in the Syrian city of Homs.
Those who remain in the country face an uncertain future and risk religious persecution. In many ways, Syria would be a better place without President Bashar al-Assad, a tyrant willing to kill his own people to stay in power. But, up to now, minorities like Christians have enjoyed a degree of religious freedom that could disappear under a new government, particularly if it is influenced by extremist Islamic elements.
Such threats are apparent in other parts of the Middle East. Attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt and the potential loss of religious freedoms for them and other minorities continue to be a concern in the wake of the Arab Spring movement that swept President Hosni Mubarak from power. And the world saw what happened to Christians in Iraq after years of sectarian conflict and economic troubles: Once home to more than a million Christians, fewer than half that number now live there.
A similar exodus has been happening for decades in the Palestinian territories, and the concern about Christians disappearing from the Holy Land was one of the main themes of a 2010 synod of bishops held at the Vatican.
Preserving ‘living stones’
Christians in the Holy Land are sometimes referred to as “living stones” because they worship, work and raise their families — despite the ongoing conflicts and other struggles — in the place where the apostles laid the foundations of the church. They connect us to our spiritual heritage in a special way.
We can help solidify the foundation for these “living stones” by contributing to the annual Good Friday collection. And we can also foster solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land by learning more about the social and religious challenges they face.
This Holy Week — when we hear the places associated with Jesus’ Passion and resurrection proclaimed at liturgies — is an opportune time to educate ourselves about the situation and lend a small, but important, helping hand.