JERUSALEM, NOV. 11, 2001 (Zenit.org).- No one belongs here more than you, seems to be the message of the Holy Land Custody to would-be pilgrims.
The Custody has appealed to pilgrims to return to Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem, in order to help sustain the region´s Christians and economy.
“Do not leave us Christians of the Holy Land alone,” implored Father Vicenzo Ianniello, secretary of the Custody.
On Saturday the Franciscan friar described Bethlehem: “It is a deserted city. Among Christian families, whoever is able, helps others. But if the pilgrimages do not begin again, there is nothing to do.”
“Nothing like this every happened before, not even during the years of the first intifada,” the Franciscan said, according to the Italian newspaper Avvenire.
The Holy Land Custody continues to pay its employees, the majority of whom are fathers of families, 75% of their salary. But it is becoming harder to meet this commitment.
Hundreds of families have this problem. More than 80% of Arab Christians depend economically on activities related to pilgrimages. They are either owners or personnel of hotels and small restaurants on pilgrimage itineraries.
They are also taxi drivers, bus conductors; artisans who make wooden statues or T-shirts, and vendors of religious articles and souvenirs. They have been without work since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.
Arab Christians who live in the Palestinian Territories but who depend on employment in Israel also face problems. Security controls imposed by the Israeli army mean that it is impossible for them to work.
Catholic schools feel the fallout. Families with no income are unable to pay school fees. The Franciscans have a total of four schools in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Latin Patriarchate and other religious orders also have numerous schools.
The Holy Land Custody´s activity in obtaining a home for families in difficulty has also been affected. This was an initiative to prevent the emigration of Christians. Yet in the present situation tenants cannot even pay the nominal rent envisioned by the project.
Shrines, too, are having a hard time. Largely dependent on pilgrims´ offerings, they now need help to pay their ordinary expenses.