FFHL PRESS ROOM

Welcome to the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land Press Room.  Below you will find all the resources you need to learn more about, and also to promote, the cause of safeguarding the Christian Presence in the Holy Land, which is under attack from every side.  Whether it be press releases, image galleries, videos, news articles, or frequently asked questions, this page has everything you need, and more.  Further information and more downloadable resources can be found on our FFHL PR Packet page below as well.

FFHL Public Relations Packet

PRESS RELEASES


FFHL PRESS RELEASES


The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land has an active presence in the press world.  With the reach of our press releases we have successfully spread the cause of the Christians in the Holy Land in many publications across the country.  For a full list of the FFHL Press releases, click below.


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FAQ

FR. PETER VASKO, OFM ANSWERS 10 QUESTIONS ABOUT THE FFHL

The increasing turmoil in the Middle East has not substantially affected our ministry here in the Holy Land. Living and ministering in Israel proper or in the West Bank is not the same thing as ministering in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, or Iran, which obviously would be quite difficult. Yes there is conflict and violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis but it is not the type of violence that would block any of our ministerial endeavors to our Christians in the Holy Land.

For example in spite of all the political turmoil around us, the Custody’s foundation (FFHL) is still providing hope as well as a future for our Christians by continuing to provide them with important educational programs such as the Child Sponsorship Program where we find individuals in the U.S. who will pay the school tuition of economically marginalized students from 6th to 12th or a similar program for those students wishing to develop their musical talents or even our most successful program   the College Scholarship Program where we find other sponsors to pay for the college tuition of students who show high academic acumen but whose families are economically marginalized.

We have a host of other humanitarian projects such as the Franciscan Boys Home, Children Without Borders, Franciscan Family Centers, Free Medicine Program, Housing, etc. None of these programs have been affected by the sad cycle of violence around us. The only exception has been in Gaza where we only have about 2000 Christians. Many of their homes have been destroyed, schooling has been chaotic and where families are leaving.   Given the political situation surrounding Gaza, I really don’t see any improvement in the future.   Yes we are attempting to help but getting things into Gaza is difficult. Overall the political climate around Israel or what we call the Holy Land is not too positive but we will have to wait and see. The internal factions among the Muslims- between the Shiites who account fro 10-l5 % of the Muslims worldwide and the Sunnis who account for 85% of the Muslims worldwide along with some of the Middle East countries they represent are problematic for Israel. Israel is actually surrounded by many fanatical militant Muslims.

It is very important that there should always be a Christian presence in the Holy Land because it is the ‘Cradle of Christianity” where it all began, where our Church was founded, where our religious roots and heritage dawned and where for centuries Christians have been born here, worked here, ministered here and died here. With this crisis of Christians leaving the Holy Land some church officials are saying that, if we don’t take action now to stem this exodus, then within 60 years Christianity could diminish drastically and all we will have will be empty religious monuments and museums and no living, worshipping community. This is not acceptable!
Ihe greatest challenge facing indigenous Christians in the Holy Land would probably be a lingering attitude among Jews and Muslims of a type of irrelevancy of the Christians albeit their long history and involvement in this land.

For many Jews and Muslims, the Christians are a minority in this land and don’t have any real political power, secondly a good number of Jews look upon them first as Arabs, then Palestinians and hence possible enemies of Israel, while militant Muslims look upon them as pro-west and traitors to the Islamic cause. After 30 years of ministering in this land, it is still a land filled with tension, with mistrust, with duplicity and sometimes with hate because of the differences in religious beliefs. So I think that Christians are caught between a rock and a hard place and are limited in what they can do from the standpoints just expressed.

STFrancis of Assisi was a mediator and a reconciler for all people and was strongly opposed to violence. In 1219 during the Fifth Crusade, Francis came to Egypt and became actively involved in attempting to bring peace between the two camps, that is, between Cardinal Pelagius, who was the Crusader Commander and the Sultan Malik-al-Kamil of Egypt in Damietta.

In spite of strong protest from the church hierarchy as well as from the Crusaders not to proceed, Francis, along with another friar, followed his spirit and proceeded courageously to reach the Sultan. They were captured and eventually dragged before him. Francis told the Sultan that they had been sent by God, not by man, to show him and his subjects the way of salvation and to plead for peace. Apparently the sultan was so impressed by this raggedly clad man, his simplicity, his courage and enthusiasm that he gave them safe conducts to return back to the Crusader camp but sadly without an accord of peace. The Sultan later called Francis’s followers the ‘friars of the cord’.

In our situation in the Holy Land, we too, as sons of St. Francis, try to be free from ‘enemy making’. Where others created enemies, we try and create brother and sister. A good example was the 39-day-old siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on April 2, 2002. Several hundred Muslim Palestinian combatants were being chased by Israeli military and ran into the church claiming sanctuary. When the Israeli military tried to enter the church several friars along with several Greek Orthodox monks gently but sternly told the soldiers that they were not able to enter the Church because it is considered a sanctuary. So for the next 39 days, the complex of the Church of the Nativity was completely surrounded by the Israeli Defense forces. Inside the Basilica, we provided mattresses for the Muslims to sleep on, provided water and fed them with whatever food we had. Two weeks later the electricity and water were turned off by the military and eventually on May 10 the siege ended. Yet during this time, we became the mediators along with other ecclesiastical personages to help resolve the crisis. That is what we have been trained to do and we continue to bring that charism to bear when problems arise.

From time to time, our Christians face discrimination from either Israeli or Muslim factions. A case in point was a Catholic family in Bethlehem who had three small children and were looking for a two bedroom apartment. They found one owned by a Muslim landlord and because they were Christians, he doubled the amount of the monthly payments as opposed what the other Muslim families were paying in the same complex. When the new tenant asked him why, he never answered and since the family had no other choice they accepted. Two months later the landlord visited the apartment and saw several crucifixes on the walls, some paintings of Jesus and Mary he came furious and virulent. He immediately told them that if these religious articles were not removed within two days, he would have the police evict them. Well being devout believers, they could not in conscience take them down and so they were rudely evicted with whatever clothes and furniture they had and thrown into the street. Several friars went to the talk with the landlord but he wouldn’t listen. He just told us to get our people off his property. We eventually transported them to a shelter but within a week, we found them a similar apartment in a Christian section for half the price that they were paying. This incident does not happen everyday but it reflects how discrimination against Christians is very real in places like Israel/Palestine.
Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land was very important. His visit not only told the world about the plight of the local Christians but of the difficulties that they are facing.

His visit gave the local Christians new hope for the future.     Indeed the visits of Pope St. John Paul II, of Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis to the Christians in the Holy Land demonstrated the concern that the Popes have had for them. The Christians truly felt embraced with genuine love. At the same time these visits have always had a positive effect in that many more donors began sending in financial assistance to the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land thus helping us to help with the increased needs of the Christian communities in this land.

I think that the Christians in the Holy Land are truly living the Beatitudes…they hunger and thirst for justice, they mourn for the loss of lives, friends, and freedom and instead of fighting back and seeking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, they turn the other cheek as Christ calls them to in mercy and love. Our Christians have suffered many things during their sojourn here in this land and yet they have been long suffering and have learned to bear their crosses courageously so in a real sense, we do see a flourishing of a deeper faith in times of difficulty.
With all the humanitarian programs that FFHL has been involved in, I think that other non-Christians in this country see that the Franciscans are very determined and dedicated in their duty of taking care of their own faithful. The fact that our schools are considered to be outstanding, the fact that 65% of our classes are now attended by Muslim children, the fact that the Franciscan Custody along with FFHL continues to build more and more family dwellings (apartments), the fact that the Franciscans continue to provide hundreds of free college scholarship grants to economically marginalized Christian students, the fact that we have on-going family programs for those in need, the fact that we have established dozens of soccer programs for the young people –have all shown the concerns that we have for our people as well as for others who have participated in our programs.
The best way to support our ministry is first by prayer, secondly by coming on pilgrimage so as to strengthen one’s own spiritual faith, while at the same time learning more about the plight of your brothers and sister in Christ, and lastly by your financial assistance to help us fund the many programs which have given hope to our young Christians so as to motivate them to remain in their homeland.
A great challenge is awaiting us, i.e. to maintain and preserve the Christian presence in the Holy Land. We cannot simply sit back and watch these ‘Guardians of Christianity’ disappear. We have in fact a moral obligation to do whatever it takes to ensure that there will always be a Christian presence in the Holy Land where our religious roots and heritage began.

We must never forget that the Holy Land is the ‘Cradle of Christianity’. The only founder of the three monotheistic religions that was born here was Jesus himself, and hence we have an important stake in this land. Let us always remember that we stand on the shoulders of those who went before us. The Holy Land, our Christian heritage, our living church in Jerusalem, our sacred Holy Sites…these are the shoulders on which we stand when it comes to our faith.

By helping the mother church of Jerusalem, we will be bringing hope where there was despair, light where there was darkness, joy where there was sorrow, faith where there was doubt. The Christopher’s used to say that it takes only one candle to light the darkness. My question to all Christians is this- our Church is dying, it needs to be rebuilt…will you be that candle to light the darkness for our young brothers and sisters who desperately need your help.

Are you a journalist or member of the press and have any questions about the FFHL?  Feel free to contact Chris Weldon, our Communications Manager, at:

Chris Weldon
Communications Manager

Email: cweldon@ffhl.org
Phone: (866) 905-3787 (toll free)

(Please be advised: the contact details are only for the Press. For any other request, email us at info@ffhl.org)

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