Friends of the Holy Land
Supporting Christians in the Holy Land
The Friends of the Holy Land (FHL) was established in 2009 as a charity within the UK to support the Christians in the Holy Land. They work in close cooperation with the Christian churches in the region and in the UK, and have amongst their patrons the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Christians in The Holy Land are being persecuted and live in very difficult circumstances, including great poverty. The work of FHL is entirely non-political and aims to:
- Raise awareness of the difficulties they face
- Encourage prayers to be said for their intentions
- Generate finances to assist them in maintaining a sustainable future
- Encourage visits to the Holy Land by pilgrims from the UK
One of the most overlooked factors in understanding the political and cultural dynamics of the Middle East is the presence of the regions Christian communities. As a region, this has left many of these Eastern Christians wondering what future is left for them in the lands where they have lived for 2000 years. The reasons they are being driven out are numerous. They range from the very real threats of violence that has seen thousands killed as a result of their faith, to more subtle but just as damaging legal and political repression. The confiscation of land from the Palestinian people by the Israelis’ is also well documented.
Some years ago, the number of Christians living in the Holy Land numbered about 25%, dropping to 10% about 10 years ago, and to just over 1% today (2013). One could ask “what does it matter if they leave and settle elsewhere?” But consider the prospect of a Holy Land without Christians: who would look after the Christian shrines? What would happen to the Church of the Nativity if there were no Christians to run it? Would we find it acceptable for it to become a museum or café? What would a pilgrimage be like to the land of our Lord’s birth and crucifixion without Christians to guide us on the journey through His life and bring the bible alive? This is no joke – these are real prospects if the Christians continue to be persecuted, forced to live in poverty as they frequently cannot get work due to the partition wall which stops them travelling to where the work is, and have their land taken from them.
OLI has undertaken two such pilgrimages to the Holy Land (in 2010 and 2012) and we have seen first-hand the conditions they have to live in. However, with simple assistance and support from their fellow Christians around the world they can survive, but it does need us to take ownership of the problem and come to their aid.
How are we helping them in OLI?
For some time now, we have bought our altar wine (when we can get it) from Palestine. This purchase directly helps local people with an income as they produce wine for this purpose. We will continue to do this into the future.
In 2013, our Lenten project supported 3 parishes in the Bethlehem area. The three Parish Priests meet to distribute food and clothing vouchers, blankets, heaters and medicines. The vouchers are “spent” at shops owned by local Christians. The Priests ensure that only the neediest receive support.
One of the many visible signs of donations from the “Friends” in the UK has been St. Martha’s House, the first dedicated Day Care Centre for elderly ladies in Bethlehem. It is now well established as the regular meeting lace twice a week for 35 elderly ladies to enjoy friendship and a healthy lunch. A couple of years ago, the OLI Lenten Project assisted with funds for a new minibus which is used to transport the ladies to the centre from their homes.
Information on St Martha’s House can be found on the FHL Website