Holy Land's Christians: Guardians of Stones?

Discouragement Stalks the Faithful, Says Franciscan

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JERUSALEM, NOV. 9, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Christians of the Holy Land need the warmth and presence of pilgrims if they are not to feel abandoned by the world, says the vicar of the Franciscan Custody.



In an interview with Spanish Catholic media on the situation in the Middle East, Father Artemio Vitores acknowledged the discouragement that Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, have suffered over the past four years of the intifada, the Palestinian uprising.

"It was sad to see Casa Nova, our house for pilgrims, with two people, or to go to the Holy Sepulcher and see no one," he recalled.

The priest continued: "And this has also created situations of crisis among the friars, not for financial reasons, but because it makes them wonder: 'What am I doing here?'

"I asked a friar in Tabga, next to Lake Tiberias: 'How many pilgrims came today?' 'Two.' If one is a scholar and likes to read, it's OK, but if you don't, you enter a crisis, and wonder: 'But what am I doing here? A guardian of stones? Very interesting, but still stones."

"Then there has been a movement -- and here one must acknowledge the role of the bishops' conferences, which are mobilizing to a degree, especially the Italian, but also the Spanish -- which I describe as 'coming to visit a sick person,'" added the Franciscan friar.

"We know that someone who is sick is not cured with one visit, but at least you give him a feeling of solidarity, of support, and I believe this is very important," he said. "Aside from the financial aspect, which gives the possibility of work to so many people, it is above all a question of solidarity: that Christians here can see that Christians worldwide are thinking of them."

"In the Christian world, especially at the level of nations, such as Spain, Italy, or France, the topic of Christianity does not resonate," he added. "Christians here wonder: 'Well, aren't these nations Christian? Aren't they at all interested in the Christianity of the Holy Land? What the Holy Land means for the Christian world? And this creates a crisis for them."