The letter was dated Good Friday 2021, which falls on April 2, and signed by Sandri and Archbishop Giorgio Demetrio Gallaro, respectively the prefect and secretary of the Vatican Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
The Holy See has overseen the Church’s annual collection for the Holy Land since 1974, when St. Pope Paul VI established Good Friday as the ordinary day for it to be taken up by parishes and bishops around the world.
The collection is traditionally split, with 65% going to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which has maintained the Holy Places of Christianity in the region for more than 800 years.
The remaining 35% is given to the Congregation for the Eastern Churches to support seminarians and priests, as well as educational and cultural activities.
Alongside the letter, the Vatican issued a detailed breakdown of how the proceeds of the annual collection helped Holy Land Christians in 2019-2020.
The Congregation received $9.7 million from the Holy Land collection in 2020, funding educational institutions such as the Pontifical Oriental Institute and Bethlehem University, which has almost 3,300 students, as well as the schools of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Some $2.4 million went on extraordinary aid to countries such as Syria and Lebanon, while $500,000 financed 303 projects in 24 countries related to the coronavirus crisis.
Sandri described 2020 as “a year of trials” for the Christian minority in the Middle East.
“In 2020, the Christians of those lands suffered an isolation that made them feel even more distant, cut off from vital contact with the brethren from various countries of the world,” he said.
“They suffered the loss of work, due to the absence of pilgrims, and the consequent difficulty in living with dignity and providing for their families and children. In many countries, the persistence of war and sanctions compounded the effects of the pandemic.”
The Holy Land collection was moved in 2020 from Good Friday to Sept. 13, because of the suspension of public Masses in many places due to COVID-19.
The cardinal explained that last year’s collection “fell short, due to the added difficulties involved in carrying it out in many countries.”
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In a report on its activities in 2019-2020, the Custody of the Holy Land noted the strain on its finances.
It said: “At this point in time we have been without pilgrims from the end of February 2020. This means grave economic difficulties for the local Christian communities, for the families of our Christian faithful, and also for the Custody itself.”
It added that the collection’s postponement meant that it was still “quantifying the result” and did not know when the resources would be available.
Using the collection’s official Latin title, Sandri wrote: “May this year collection pro Terra Sancta be an opportunity for everyone not to ignore the difficult situation of our brothers and sisters of the Holy Places but rather to lighten their burdens.”