December 6, 2019

Foundation marks 25 years of supporting the Church in the Holy Land

By Sean Gallagher

The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL) was founded 25 years ago to help native Christians of the region where Christ founded the Church to continue to live there under difficult political and economic conditions.

Catholics in central and southern Indiana have for many years been among the FFHL’s strongest supporters. Franciscan Father Peter Vasko, who has led the foundation from the start, recently visited Indianapolis to meet with some of its donors.

He spoke with The Criterion about the continuing work of the FFHL, and of the conditions currently facing Catholics in the Holy Land.

“The Catholics in Indiana love their Church,” Father Peter said. “And they’ve become more informed of the situation that is happening in the Holy Land. They have a sensitivity, I think, for their Church, their heritage, their roots. They know that is in the Holy Land. And because of that, they’re the ones who want to make sure that there will always be a Christian presence there.”

Another factor for the strength of support of Catholics in central and southern Indiana for the FFHL is that many of them have taken pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

Additionally, many priests serving in archdiocesan parishes have visited the Holy Land and used their experience of the region to shape their homilies.

“That’s a big factor,” Father Peter said. “Once they get there, they’re made aware of the problems facing the Christians there. It’s an important avenue if you want to know more about what’s happening.”

Over its 25 years, the FFHL has provided college scholarships to 700 Holy Land Christians so they can enter professional fields of work.

“They had nothing. They were dirt poor,” Father Peter said. “Now these people are doctors, architects, nurses, pharmacists. If that isn’t helping to build up the Christian society in the Holy Land, I don’t know what we’re doing then.”

With its track record of helping young Christians build a life in the Holy Land so they can stay there, the FFHL is attracting attention from more Christians in the region.

“We’re getting more and more young people coming to us every year asking to secure a college education,” Father Peter said. “We’re now very well known in the Holy Land. They know there’s an avenue where they can be assisted and get help.”

The FFHL also supports the ministry of the Franciscans in the Holy Land who have cared for its many holy sites for hundreds of years.

They were recently given the task for bolstering the ground underneath the “edicule,” the part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem that is believed to be the place where Christ was buried.

The two-year project, Father Peter estimated, will cost between $3-$6 million. He was encouraged, though, that donors quickly stepped forward with $3 million.

“That’s another part of the Franciscan Foundation, maintaining the tomb of Christ,” Father Peter said. “It’s a big project.”

Although Father Peter and the FFHL have been dedicated for a quarter of a century to strengthening the Church in the Holy Land, the threats to the faithful there and the motivations for them to leave are as strong as ever.

That doesn’t discourage the priest, though, because he, as a follower of

St. Francis of Assisi, has taken the long view of the life of the Church in the Holy Land.

“The Franciscans have been there for 800 years,” Father Peter said. “We’ve been taking up challenges in different areas, some more serious than others. The work we are doing may seem like a drop in the bucket. But every person is important.

“We’re doing it slowly, but surely. There were 700 families that were going to leave. They’re not leaving.”
 

(For more information about the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, visit ffhl.org.)

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