Lent in the Holy Land

Via Dolorosa, Ninth Station, Jerusalem

From the earliest days of the Church, the faithful at Mass would offer contributions to be distributed for the support of the community and those who are in need (cf. Acts 2:45, 4:34-35).  Added to these donations were also the gifts of prayer.  That practice continues today in the context of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and sometimes in addition to the regular collection which goes to the fund the activities and upkeep of the church, there is another to be applied to some particular purpose.

One of these special collections is devoted to the support of the Church in the Holy Land, including pastoral, charitable, educational and social works in help of our Christian sisters and brothers there. Donations can be made now online here. In churches, this pontifical collection is traditionally taken up on Good Friday, further reminding us of the intimate connection between the faithful who live there and the events and reality of our salvation in the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Throughout the rest of the world, we focus on and prepare for the Paschal Mystery in a special way during that part of the year that is the season of Lent.  For the Christian people of the Holy Land, however, this is in many respects a year-round experience, especially in recent years with the genocidal violence of ISIS.  In the aftermath of that modern-day Passion in the body of Christ, much suffering and insecurity still remain as they struggle to rebuild. Furthermore, there is still a danger of the gradual eradication of Christianity in the very land where it all started if the people there decide to leave because they lack the assistance they need to stay.

Yet, if Lent is for us a time of penance and preparation to participate in the sufferings of Christ, for Christians in the Holy Land who have endured their own personal Via Crucis, Lent is also a time of hope and reassurance because we know where Jesus’ way of the cross leads.  Explains Pope Francis: “Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children. Lent is the road leading from slavery to freedom, from suffering to joy, from death to life” (Homily for Ash Wednesday 2017).

As we look forward to the Easter of mercy, freedom, joy and life that overcomes evil and death, it is incumbent upon us to offer our support – material and spiritual – to our family members who are the Body of Christ in the Holy Land, remembering how Simon the Cyrenian helped Jesus to carry his Cross and Veronica showed mercy and compassion to our Lord.  As we pray for them, we include all people everywhere suffering persecution.  May peoples’ hearts be touched so that the greeting of the holy city of Jerusalem, “Shalom,” meaning “peace,” might become a true reality throughout the world.