FRANCISCAN Friars in Jerusalem and around the world were set to postpone Good Friday collections that ordinarily went towards the upkeep of Holy Land sites amid “terrible uncertainty” caused by coronavirus (COVID-19).
Holy Land Commissary for Australia and Kedron parish administrator Franciscan Father Mario Debattista said the friars faced challenges from two directions.
He said the friars did not just take care of the holy sites, but also took care of local pastoral needs, seminaries, schools and social needs like displaced refugees from Syria.
“There’s going to be a knock-on effect where the need for help is going to be greater (and) the income for the sanctuaries is going to be much less,” he said.
“So they’re going to be pulled in both directions in terms of just up keeping the place and normal expenses, plus then trying to respond to local people’s needs.”
The Good Friday collection was a key source of income for the friars in Jerusalem, he said, and they particularly relied on the donations of developed western countries.
He said because of the threat of COVID-19, it was unlikely there would be a Good Friday collection at all.
“There’s just a terrible uncertainty,” he said.
In a letter to the universal church about the issue, Argentine Cardinal and Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches Leonardo Sandri said the care of the sanctuaries “would be impossible” without the funds from the Good Friday collections.
“The Holy Land is the physical place where Jesus lived this agony and this suffering, transforming it into redemptive action thanks to an infinite love,” he said.
Cardinal Sandri said the sites “preserve the memory of divine revelation, the mystery of the Incarnation and our Redemption; and because in those places the local Christian community finds the foundations of its identity”.
The Franciscan Friars also found a unique identity in caring for the Holy Land.
Fr Debattista (pictured) said about 800 years ago, St Francis had gone to the Holy Land to stop the Fifth Crusade.
He failed to halt the Battle of Damietta, but he was undeterred.
St Francis and Brother Illuminato crossed out of the crusader camp and into the Muslim camp, where they were captured, beaten, and eventually taken to the Sultan Malek al-Kamil.
St Francis and the sultan both tried to unsuccessfully convert one another to their respective religions and it became a storied example of interfaith dialogue as the two developed a friendship of sorts.
While St Francis had failed in his campaign for peace, he had opened the way to stability because when the crusaders and Muslims sued for peace, the Muslims allowed Christians to visit their holy sites under one condition – the followers of St Francis be its custodians.
Fr Debattista said you didn’t have to wait until Good Friday to contribute to the ongoing custodianship.