Setting something aside for Good Friday

This past Tuesday the Holy See released to the public a letter that it was sending all diocesan bishops throughout the world, encouraging them to foster donations to this year’s Good Friday collection for the Holy Land.

Since this collection is taken up during the Liturgy of Good Friday, a very solemn one, it is not easy to promote the collection on that day. Thus Cardinal Leonardo Sandri
and Archbishop Cyril Vasil, S.J., of the Vatican’s Congregation for Oriental Churches wrote to their fellow bishops so that they could remind people beforehand of this important collection.

The two Vatican officials wrote, “The need is particularly felt in this time of crisis, through which the entire region of the Middle East is passing. The season of Lent favors a meditation full of love for the holy places which were present at the origin of our faith and in which the first Christian communities, following Christ, Salus Mundi, were gathered. Already St. Paul remembers them, when he warmly exhorts his audience to ‘to make some contribution for the poor’” (cf. Rm 15:25-26; Gal 2:10; 1 Cor 16; 2 Cor 8-9). In other words, we are reminded that even in Biblical times Christians in other lands took up collections to help their brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.

The officials continued, “Like the Apostle [Paul], so also Pope Francis has particularly at heart the sufferings of so many of our brothers and sisters in this corner of the world, a place made Sacred by the Blood of the Lamb. ‘[Their suffering] aggravated in the past months because of the continuing hostilities in the region cries out to God and it calls for our commitment to prayer and concrete efforts to help in any way possible’” (Pope Francis, “Letter to the Christians in the Middle East,” Dec. 21, 2014).

We have a few weeks to prepare for this collection, so that when the basket is passed in front of us during the Good Friday Liturgy, we can be united in our prayers and our almsgiving for these Christians, who in these days have a much larger share of the cross than most of us. 

The letter noted, “Senseless hatred seems to prevail instead [of dialogue], along with the helpless desperation of those who have lost everything and have been expulsed from the land of their ancestors. If the Christians of the Holy Land are encouraged to resist, to the degree possible, the understandable temptation to flee, the faithful throughout the world are asked to take their plight to heart. Also involved are brothers in Christ who belong to various confessions: an ecumenism of blood (emphasis in the original text) which points toward the triumph of unity: ‘ut unum sint’ (that all might be one!)” (Jn 17:21). 

The two officials were calling to mind the occasional complaint of Christians who don’t live in the Holy Land about the declining number of Christians there — the cardinal and archbishop want us to put our money where our mouths are, not just complaining about this demographic problem, but doing something, no matter how seemingly small, so as to help arrest it.

They also remind us that through the split blood of Christians of various denominations, we are united together with Christ’s sufferings on the original Good Friday.

The Vatican officials mention a special vocation of Holy Land believers: “The little flock of Christians, spread throughout the Middle East is called ‘to promote dialogue, to build bridges in the spirit of the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3:12), and to proclaim the Gospel of peace’” (Pope Francis, “Letter to Christians in the Middle East”).

They then remind us that we need to do our part for this bridge-building: “Only in the unity of the Spirit and in fraternal charity with all disciples of Christ, can the Church, His spouse, bear witness to hope before her children who daily live the same sufferings of the Lord, humiliated and abandoned.  [We] trust that the Good Friday collection will be welcomed by all of the local churches, resulting in an ever greater participation in the solidarity coordinated by our Congregation in order to guarantee the Holy Land with necessary support, for the demands of ordinary ecclesial life and for particular necessities.”

The Vatican website (http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2015/03/10/0175/00390.html) lists the various projects towards which the money will go, from the mundane (new parking lots on Mount Tabor) to the extremely urgent (relief work with refugees in Lebanon and Syria). 

Being practicing Catholics here, we know how our parishes have had to scrimp by this winter due to snow. Imagine having to deal with war and persecution (and snow — they actually had to deal with that this winter, which just made the sufferings of the refugees even worse) while trying to have a somewhat “normal” faith life. 

May God help us to be as generous as we can to our brothers and sisters who live where Jesus did.

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