Franciscans determined to keep Christianity in Holy Land

Jerusalem, Israel, Aug 13, 2014 / 02:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite the stresses of alternating violence and ceasefires between Hamas and Israel, Franciscans in the Holy Land are committed to helping the region’s Christians remain in their homeland.

“We pray and we work,” said Father Peter Vasko, O.F.M., president of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land. “That’s how we will help preserve the Christian presence in the Holy Land. That’s our goal.”

Since 1994, the foundation has run humanitarian programs in education, child care, housing and employment to help Christians remain in the Holy Land despite pressures like discrimination and violence that encourage them to leave.

I saw Fr Vasko on Mother Angelica Live, back when she was still hosting the show.

It was through him that I became aware of the oppression Christians in the Holy Land have endured from the Israeli Government.

I always knew they were threatened by Islamic Extremists, but I thought the Israeli government protected them.

It was an eye opener.


The Israeli government would only threaten them if they are trying to convert Jews to Christianity. Jews have a right to live in their own country without harassment from Christians of all stripes, not just Catholics. Would the Vatican be so friendly if Jews tried to evangelize Catholics there?

Not according to Fr Vasko.

Back in the 90’s, the Israeli Government revoked business licenses of Palestinian Christians and reissued them to immigrating Jews. Those businesses were generally in the Christian tourist sites, such as souvenir shops, tour guides and such. The business had been owned and operated for generations by the Christians. Suddenly, they had their livelihood taken away by the government and with no means of making a living, were forced to leave their apartments and other properties, which they could no longer pay to stay in. It’s part of the reason why the Christian population in the Holy Land, has fallen below 2%.


In addition to these issues, settlers in the West Bank have desecrated Christian churches, vandalized Christian homes, and assaulted Christian children with rocks.

Recently, a convent was dismembered to make way for the separation wall - with the more profitable part of the land going to Israel while the part that cannot sustain itself goes to the nuns on the other side of the wall. Each year, the Bethlehem Carvers are forced to come to parishes in the United States to sell their wares because they cannot otherwise economically sustain the Christian community.

And that’s not even considering the fact that the Israeli government blocks access of Palestinian Christians to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during Holy Week - something that even the Turks allowed.

These Christians are not immigrants. These are Arabic-speaking Christians whose ancestors have been living in the Holy Land for thousands of years and whose existence in the Holy Land predates that of the Muslims who conquered them. These are people who kept the faith through the centuries under significant pressure to convert to Islam - and are now under significant pressure from Israel to leave. They need our help and our prayers.

Thanks for posting this, Jim.

Wow, I never knew about all that. :frowning: I had read in the weeks preceding the new war in Palestine that radical Jewish folks had vandalized and threatened Franciscans, but I assumed this was an exception to the rule that Christians were treated humanely by Israelis.

Palestinian Christians really get squeezed from both sides. The Muslims distrust them because they see Christianity as a western religion and the religion of Crusaders etc. etc. Also, Palestinian Christians do not have the same prohibitions against selling or drinking alcohol so they are looked down upon by the majority of Palestinians.

The Israelis distrust Palestinians regardless of their religion. As another poster noted the Israelis will seize property regardless of who it belongs to build their security fence or to give the land to Jewish settlers.


The Catholic News Agency article originated as a press release from the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land.

That press release included a video from ATS pro Terra Sancta, which described some of the relief efforts in Gaza. It is notable for featuring Fr. Jorge Hernandez, pastor of the Catholic church in Gaza. (However, he was voiced over, perhaps because he does not speak English.)

The website of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land has much more information.

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