Archbishop Sambi speaks in Indianapolis in May 2008

By Sean Gallagher

Archbishop Pietro Sambi was in Indianapolis earlier this month to participate in a fundraising dinner sponsored by the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL) in support of the Franciscan Boys Home in Bethlehem. (Related:Interview with the nuncio)

More than 230 people attended the May 3 dinner, which was held at the Meridian Hills Country Club in Indianapolis.

Archbishop Sambi, who is a special adviser to the national board of the FFHL, supports the foundation’s work, in part, because he spent more than seven years in the Holy Land while serving as the Holy See’s apostolic nuncio to Israel and apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine.

He has served at the apostolic nuncio to the United States since 2005.

A large majority of the people who attended the function have made pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general, spoke during the program about how a large number of archdiocesanCatholics support the Church in the Holy Land through the FFHL.

“This is a cause that is traveling around the country,” he said. “I think that our local Indianapolis group has done a tremendous job. We, here in Indiana, we want to be supportive. We want to be part of this.”

Franciscan Father Peter Vasko, president of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, also remarked on the growth of the foundation in Indianapolis and how people here are supporting the home in Bethlehem, where young boys who come from families troubled by substance abuse, alcoholism or child abuse can live while attending a nearby Franciscan-run school.

“Seeing that they’re being helped psychologically and from an educational standpoint is just absolutely wonderful,” said Father Peter. “What did Jesus say? ‘Let the children come unto me.’ We have to help these young people who have nowhere to turn, especially in the town of Bethlehem, where there’s so much negativity, so many conflicts, still as we speak today.”

In his presentation at the dinner, Archbishop Sambi said that “the Holy Land is not a foreign land for us.

“As Christians, we were all spiritually born in the grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem. And as a member of the Church, we all emerged from the cenacle, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, with the mandate to continue the mission of Christ in the world.”

Archbishop Sambi emphasized how the Holy Land makes our faith in Christ tangible.

“The holy places are like a fifth gospel, which make our profession of faith more concrete,” he said. “They help us to understand that Jesus Christ is not a ghost, but a real person: son of God and son of Mary, our Savior who walked the Earth as we do. They help us to understand the human redemption by the work of Jesus Christ is not a legend but an historical event.”

He also spoke about how the Holy Land, and Bethlehem in particular, are important for him.

“For 40 years, I have moved among the continents of the world representing the Holy Father,” Archbishop Sambi said. “I have not found another place in the world where I felt God so close as when I knelt [at] the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.”

Msgr. Paul Koetter, pastor of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, also spoke at the dinner. He has traveled three times to the Holy Land: once while on sabbatical and twice while helping lead pilgrimages of St. Monica parishioners there.

His presentation at the dinner was a spiritual reflection on one of those pilgrimages.

“In this land, Jesus walked. And now, we have walked,” said Msgr. Koetter. “We have seen the water that he saw, walked the hills that he walked, felt the breeze that he felt. We have visited the sites of miracles, the sites of sermons, the places of relaxation.

“We have experienced the conflicted reality of Jerusalem. We have felt the heaviness in our hearts at the Crucifixion. We have experienced his land, but we also experience him in our midst.”

Archbishop Sambi said that the spiritual vitality of the Holy Land is, in large part, due to the fact that a living Church still exists there, a Church that is a small minority, and one that needs support from other believers to persevere.

“This … is because around the holy places there is a community of Christians who believe, who love and who hope,” Archbishop Sambi said. “If the day would come—I pray to the Lord that it will never happen—that there would be no Christians in the Holy Land, even those most holy places would become like a cold museum from which you go out as you enter.” †