Leaders from the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Tuesday reported on their recent visit to the area, issuing a “cry for help” for Christians in the Holy Land.
Following the request of Pope Benedict XVI that ACN deepen its solidarity especially with the Christians of the Holy Land, ACN’s president, Hans Peter Röthlin, and ACN’s spiritual assistant Father Joaquin Alliende traveled in the Holy Land between November 30 and December 8. They visited a number of Catholic parishes in Palestine, Jerusalem, and Israel, they spoke with bishops from both the Latin patriarchate and the Melkite Catholic Church, and visited the Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem where they prayed for peace.
The Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Chacour of Galilee told the ACN visitors of Christian natives’ deep connection to the life of Christ. "In the Christians of the Holy Land the direct tradition of the person and the message of Jesus lives on tangibly to this day", said Archbishop Chacour. "One of my ancestors might well have personally heard the Sermon on the Mount spoken by Jesus."
However, the ACN delegation found the Holy Land presence of Christians “greatly endangered.” “There is much suffering involved, including widespread discrimination, dismal prospects for the future and rampant emigration,” the ACN statement said. Christians now make up 30 percent of all emigrants, even though they only represent 2 percent of the population.
ACN said that education, accommodation, and opportunities for employment would be crucial for Christians if they were to stay in the Holy Land. He also said it was vital to the survival of Christianity that there be parish communities characterized by a strong sense of hope.
ACN president Hans Peter Röthlin said at the conclusion of his visit, "We must all respond and act. Our charity will do everything in its power, in prayer and in deeds, in order that the Christians in the Holy Land can be certain that the Universal Church will not abandon them in their trials and responsibilities."