November 6, 2015

Supporting Church in the Holy Land a ‘question of love’

Richard Sontag, Jr., director of public relations for the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL), left; Franciscan Father Peter Vasko, president of FFHL; and Msgr. Joseph Schaedel, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, were among the more than 200 guests who attended the Oct. 3 fundraising dinner for FFHL at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis. Msgr. Schaedel also served as master of ceremonies. (Submitted photo by Maureen Geis)

Richard Sontag, Jr., director of public relations for the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL), left; Franciscan Father Peter Vasko, president of FFHL; and Msgr. Joseph Schaedel, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, were among the more than 200 guests who attended the Oct. 3 fundraising dinner for FFHL at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis. Msgr. Schaedel also served as master of ceremonies. (Submitted photo by Maureen Geis)

By Maureen Geis (Special to The Criterion)

The recent unrest in Israel served as an unfortunate but timely backdrop for the Oct. 3 fundraiser dinner for the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL), highlighting the importance of the organization’s mission to safeguard the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

Keynote speaker Christian Brother Peter Bray, vice chancellor of Bethlehem University in Bethlehem in the West Bank, addressed the 230 attendees at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis.

He described the hardships the university’s students endure. For example, he said, just to get to the school each day, students confront metal gates; a 25-foot wall built by the Israeli government surrounding Bethlehem; checkpoints; barricades and road blocks. In all, he said, there are 630 checkpoints students might encounter where they must show their identification.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin attended the event. His ministry has taken him to more than 70 countries, but this past February he made his first visit to the Holy Land during an archdiocesan pilgrimage.

In a video interview of the archbishop made by Tekton Ministries, the organization that planned the archdiocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land and that also serves as the public relations and marketing arm for the FFHL, Archbishop Tobin commented on the attitude of Christians in the region.

“One thing that affected me [on the pilgrimage] … was our contact with other Christians ... . [They had a] sense of self-irony in describing their situation. They weren’t out to demonize anybody. They rather said, ‘This is just the way we live. We want to live here, and we accept that this is the way it is, even though it’s not just or not right. We love this land. We’ve been here for centuries, and we’ve welcomed people like you [pilgrims] for centuries, and we’ll continue to do it.’

“I was surprised and grateful for that welcome. You could say they were imitating Jesus. Jesus wouldn’t pass the evil on. He died rather than pass the evil on that was done to him.”

But restrictive laws and lack of jobs are making it more difficult for Christians to stay in the Holy Land.

According to the FFHL website, “steady Christian exodus from the land where Christianity began suggests that within the next 50 years, the Christian community will cease to exist unless something is done.”

Msgr. Joseph Schaedel, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis and who served as master of ceremonies, stated in his opening comments that Catholics need to stand “in solidarity in the land where Jesus walked.”

One way members of central and southern Indiana can stand in solidarity with Christians in the Holy Land and ensure a continued Christian presence there is by supporting the FFHL’s university scholarship program.

Those in attendance at the event included Zaki Sahlia, a recent graduate of Hebrew University who received a scholarship from the foundation.

When Sahlia was young, his father had a stroke and was unable to work. Sahlia described his circumstance as so difficult that if it had not been for his sponsor who donated to the foundation, he isn’t sure where he would be now.

Sahlia received an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a graduate degree in law. He is now employed at a law firm in Tel Aviv.

“I am so glad I received this generous scholarship. It has changed my life,” he said. “It’s not a question of money—it’s a question of love.”

His heartfelt speech touched people at the dinner, especially when he spoke about his homeland.

“It’s such a country! It’s so holy! It’s so important to be there as a Christian. To keep us there, we need you!”

As the night progressed, several generous donors came forward pledging support to students in the Holy Land through sponsorships and university scholarships.

In his concluding remarks, Archbishop Tobin noted, “We are leaving behind the generous choices we made.”
 

(Maureen Geis is a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. For more information on the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, log on to www.ffhl.org.)

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