Vatican Letter to Middle East Christians

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Tension, hostility and even violence are the “daily bread” of many of the Christian communities living in the biblical lands of the Middle East, said Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

In a letter to bishops around the world, Cardinal Sandri asked for widespread participation in the annual collection on behalf of Christians in the Holy Land. The Vatican released the cardinal’s letter March 1.

The collection, coordinated by the Congregation for Eastern Churches, is taken up during Good Friday services in many dioceses.

Cardinal Sandri said Good Friday is a special time to remember Mideast Christians’ needs, which “are bound up with the sufferings of the entire Middle East. For the disciples of Christ, hostility is often the daily bread that nourishes the faith.”

Proceeds of the collection are distributed to Latin and Eastern Catholic bishops, parishes, schools and projects in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and Egypt.

While the focus is on Catholic pastoral work in the region, he said, the church also offers social services to the needy, whether or not they are Catholic.

“In this way fraternity, which can overcome division and discrimination, increases and gives renewed impetus to ecumenical dialogue and interreligious collaboration,” he said.

Cardinal Sandri noted the ongoing high rates of Christian emigration from the Holy Land as families seek futures free from the threat of violence.

At the same time, those who stay need help not only in maintaining their families, but also in preparing for a better future, he said. The region’s Christians need “support now for schools, medical assistance, critical housing (and) meeting places.”

In addition to the cardinal’s letter, the Vatican published a summary report on how the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land used the money it received from the collection in 2010-2011. The friars improved facilities for pilgrims at the holy sites in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Magdala, Jaffa, Mount Tabor, Nain, Tabgha and Mount Nebo. They also provided university scholarships to 420 students throughout the region; provided counseling, housing and medical care to families in need; and funded construction or reconstruction projects at Catholic parishes and schools.

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