In a recent interview with Catholic News Service, Fr. Peter addresses questions about the importance of how we can play an important part in stemming the Christian exodus from the Holy Land. He discusses how the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL) is working to bring educational, humanitarian and housing aid to Christians who are greatly impacted by political and economic factors.

When and why was the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land established? Given the FFHL’s primary aim of preserving the Christian presence in the Holy Land, why is education considered crucial from this standpoint?

Since the mid-20th century, a continuous exodus of our Christians from the Holy Land (Israel/Palestine) has been underway, primarily driven by political and economic factors. Church leaders have long warned that without intervention, Christianity could vanish from the region within 50 years, leaving behind only empty religious landmarks and museums devoid of a living, worshiping community.

In response, the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL) has taken on the challenge to help stem the exodus. Through numerous meetings with young people, their parents, and parish priests, we identified a key factor in encouraging them to remain — access to higher education and stable employment opportunities. Recognizing the prohibitive cost of college tuition, we have prioritized education at all levels and have raised significant funds over the years to support education. This is why education is so important in safeguarding the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

What does your education work entail, and what are the main initiatives?

There are three criteria that a candidate must meet before applying for a college education:
1. The candidate must be of the Christian faith
2. The candidate has maintained a B grade average in high school
3. The family of the candidate must be economically marginalized

All applications undergo thorough review by a selection committee to ensure they meet the criteria and are accurately completed. Then, they are forwarded to four professors in the United States for final consideration in selecting the recipients of a tuition-free college education. Once chosen, the recipients are notified, and follow-up meetings are scheduled with the candidates.

In addition to the college program, FFHL assists in other areas of education, including elementary and high schools, and vocational trade schools offering training in plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, metalworking and mechanics. Additionally, we have extended assistance to those interested in pursuing careers in the hospitality industry, whether in hotel management, culinary arts or courses to become guides or travel agents. These comprehensive programs, fully funded by FFHL, provide Christians with a future income thus giving them hope for their future.

How many young people have you assisted in their studies thus far, and how many students is FFHL currently supporting across all programs this year?

As of March 2024, FFHL has provided over 600 Christian students with tuition-free college education, with 300 graduates and 300 currently enrolled in 12 universities and colleges across Israel.

Additionally, we have over 350 sponsors supporting 350 Christian students through four years of college, with FFHL covering the rest. For vocational training, we’ve awarded more than 309 educational grants, and for elementary and high school levels, we’ve provided over 750 educational grants. In 2024, we anticipate supporting approximately 175 students.

What feedback have you received regarding the effectiveness of your programs? Do young people typically stay in their homeland after completing their education, and do they manage to find or create job opportunities?

We continuously receive positive feedback from our students, expressing gratitude to FFHL for providing opportunities to pursue careers as accountants, engineers, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, attorneys, architects and educators. We are proud to be the sole church organization in Jerusalem offering such diverse educational programs simultaneously.

FFHL remains deeply grateful to our generous donors, whose support allows us to instill hope in Christians in the Holy Land through education, and I extend my blessings to them.

Remarkably, out of the 300 graduates, only one has chosen to leave the country. Furthermore, an impressive 93% of our graduates secure professional employment.

One of the ways FFHL shares hope with young Christians is through the gift of musical scholarships at the Magnificat Institute. Why did you decide to support this school?

In 2012, FFHL began supporting students at the Magnificat Institute, since many Christian students were unable to pay for their tuition. The institute offers extensive musical training programs, spanning composition, violin, piano, clarinet, kettle drums, trumpet, saxophone, cello, flute and more, typically lasting up to five years with the possibility of extension for an additional three years. It serves as a peace hub, uniting Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian teachers and students through music. They work together to create a peaceful Jerusalem.

Hence, FFHL has created and provided more educational programs than any other religious organization on this scale. These programs are developing the future Christians of the Holy Land, and it’s crucial to support them so they can, in turn, support their fellow believers in this land of Christ.

On average, how much money does FFHL raise annually, and what portion of these funds is allocated to educational projects? Additionally, are there specific donors who play a significant role in supporting FFHL’s educational initiatives?

Determining FFHL’s annual fundraising total can be complex due to various factors, but as a rough estimate, it averages around $1.8 million annually, accounting for approximately 44.6% of the total budget allocated to educational programs.

Throughout our history, we’ve been fortunate to have over 350 individual sponsors across the United States, with a significant portion hailing from Texas. These generous sponsors have supported Christian students, sometimes even sponsoring two or three at a time.

Education is not only school learning, but it is also human growth. What are the values that FFHL wants to promote through supporting educational works? 

The values that FFHL wants to promote through supporting educational works is to strengthen faith, responsibility, integrity and commitment. We also want to cultivate a strong moral character in our students and to be able to serve their Christian community with skill, grace and compassion.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can support Holy Land Christians, visit