Like the new Olive Wood Nativity Crèche? I hope so. It was purchased on the recent Holy Land Pilgrimage that I and others from the parish went on in November. It was a little costly, but in addition to beautifying our Christmas season it will help support Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem.
One thing that became evident during our pilgrimage was the precarious position of Christians in the Holy Land. Israel, while having protections for religious liberty, is primarily a Jewish state. The modern nation of Israel was created in 1948 in no small part to protect Jews who had experienced the heinous and evil impacts of the Holocaust. Rightly so, there is a need to provide Jews a safe place to live, even while we Catholic Christians join in all efforts to stymie and stop any forms of anti-Semitism everywhere and anywhere. And yet, the Holy Land is pronounced Holy precisely because of all those of the Abrahamic Faith that look to that sacred soil as holy – Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
Sadly, the percentage of Christians living in the Holy Land, as throughout the whole Middle East, has been in rapid decline in recent decades. There are numerous reasons for this reality: political, economic, religious, and others. Out of security concerns over the last few decades, Palestinians have faced increased hardships in making a living in Israel. Most all Palestinians are Muslims, and much of the security concern is related to political, economic and religious concerns of Jewish-Muslim relations. But 100% of all native born Christians in Israel are also Palestinians. Thus, they feel the brunt of all the challenges of Palestinians in general as well as the added difficulties of being a minuscule minority of a minority. Christians currently make up less than 1% of the Palestinian populations. Only 15-20 years ago, it was 10% or more. Confronting their own religious persecution among the greater Palestinian population from the Muslims as well as the restrictions of living in a predominantly Jewish state makes it a challenge. Large amounts of their livelihood is drawn from Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land sites, especially those in Bethlehem which resides in the Palestinian portion of Israel. COVID restrictions and the discontinuation of pilgrimages for nearly 2-years has served a near final deathblow to the struggling Christian populations in Bethlehem and throughout the Holy Land. Carved olive wood exports is one of the few sources of income for Christians in the area.
The Franciscan Custodians of the Holy Land play an important role in assisting Christians (not just Catholics) in the Holy Land. The greater Catholic Church recognizes this important ministry and presence in part by our annual Good Friday Collection which is dedicated to assisting this ministry. Even with this support, which helps with upkeep of holy sites as well as pastoral ministry needs to local families, the need is great. And the temptation to emigrate to other lands – such as the United States – is great. All parents – no matter what faith, or no faith, professed – desire a better life for their children and themselves.
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany. We recall the magi from the east coming to give due worship and homage to the newborn King of the Jews. In a real way, the Scriptures are telling us that this newborn King is not just for the Jews but for all nations and all peoples – Jew and Gentile – male and female – young or old. The magi come seeking, come sacrificing, come self-humbling before the Madonna and Child, before the Holy Family – precisely because God desires to make a holy family out of all peoples. All! But especially those who claim Abraham as our Father in Faith, and most especially those who claim Christ as King. Sadly, we are seeing in these days new challenges for Christian brothers and sisters who live in the Holy Land and live for the King of kings and Lord of All slowly being exiled from His own homeland and theirs. Safety, opportunity, simple comforts of life, entice people, especially our Palestinian Christians, to leave the Holy Land. We need to do more than simply pray for them, we need to minister to them.
If you would like to support the new addition to our parish Christmas heritage, feel free to make a donation. For those who make a contribution, large or small, there are free Olive Wood Rosaries from the Holy Land for you to receive as a token of your support. Thank you for your generosity.
+ Nothing Less than saints for the Holy Family of God. +
Holy Family, Protective Father, Tender Mother, Dependent Savior Child, Pray for us.
~ Fr Jeremy M. Gries