In a letter sent to all the bishops of the world and released today in five languages, including English, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri appealed to the generosity of Christians to support the Holy Land. An annual collection for the Holy Land is taken up on Good Friday.
The cardinal began his letter recalling the attention Benedict XVI has given to the plight of the Middle East on three recent occasions.
"In the name of the Holy Father, I wish to take this opportunity to address myself for the first time to my brothers in the episcopate who serve your respective Churches," Cardinal Sandri said, thus noting that he is new to the Vatican congregation. He was appointed its prefect last June.
"I also desire to emphasize," he continued, "as has the Pontiff, the invitation to you to continue to sustain spiritually and materially those Catholics living in the Holy Land. Pope Benedict’s are words which constitute a persuasive and authoritative call to solidarity."
Cardinal Sandri lamented how the absence of peace in the Middle East "exacerbates the many long-standing problems as well as the poverty afflicting the region of the Holy Places. That absence also contributes to the creation of new difficulties. Thus, we must recognize that Christians who reside there are a priority for the attention of the entire Catholic Church, together with that of all other Churches and ecclesial communities. For even in their need, they embody the 'living charism of Christianity’s origins.'"
He continued: "The Good Friday Collection has a special relevance. Successive Pontiffs have indicated the appropriateness of this day to attest to our common heritage of that land which, in the course of history, abides as a 'silent witness to the Savior’s life upon earth,' to cite an expression preferred by Pope Benedict.
"It is my fervent plea that every local Church shall participate in the effort to further our commitment to charity. The Congregation for Eastern Churches, by virtue of papal directive, coordinates this initiative, and does so with exactitude and fairness. Always, the goal is to assist with the everyday requirements of Christian life."
Use of funds
Cardinal Sandri explained how the collection supports the patriarch of Jerusalem, the Franciscans who are custodians of the Holy Land, and all those belonging to the Eastern Catholic Churches.
He affirmed that the distribution of the funds is not based upon "religious, cultural or political distinctions."
"Rather," the cardinal said, "it seeks especially to equip the younger generations to take their place in society in a manner which renders them competent and able to transmit the worth of their Catholic education and formation."
The cardinal thanked local Churches that encourage pilgrimages, and assured the bishops of "the deepest gratitude of the Holy Father for your support of this cause which is of such vital importance for the Church and for humanity. I extend thanks also on behalf of this dicastery and of all the Latin and Eastern communities of the Holy Land."
With the letter, the cardinal included an explanation of the use of the funds from the collection, as well as a report from the Franciscan custody of the Holy Land.
The statement explained that the Congregation for Eastern Churches receives from the apostolic nunciatures a part of the collection for the Holy Land. According to a percentage established by pontifical norms, ordinary and extraordinary subsidies are distributed to ecclesiastical districts, religious orders, and other ecclesiastical juridic persons in the following countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and, in particular, Israel and Palestinian regions.
Special attention is given to scholastic institutions, such as Catholic schools of various levels and Bethlehem University.
Additionally, financial aid is set aside for the Central Office for Foreign Students in Italy, with the goal of helping lay students, along with providing contributions to priests from those same countries who are enrolled in pontifical universities.
During 2007 the sum of $500,000 was allotted for the construction of 10 apartments at Bethlehem University, as well as another $500,000 for the reconstruction of a Melkite-operated school at Maghar.
The statement affirmed that "great care is taken to ensure that funds are distributed according to the purposes determined by the Holy See. There is serious attention to this economic role."