Foundation assists dwindling Christian presence in the Holy Land

CNA STAFF, Dec 15, 2008

In an effort to combat the decline of Christians in the Holy Land, a Franciscan Foundation has been working tirelessly to secure education, employment, housing and social services for Christians through the Memorial Hall Project.

In the early 1990s, the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land began working to preserve Christians in the Holy Land by specializing in programs to retain their presence.

These programs are all funded by donations, particularly the Memorial Hall Project at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Through this project, Christians from around the world are able to leave a lasting legacy in the town of Jesus’ birth. More importantly, they will be assisting Christians in the Holy Land.

With financial assistance from donations, the Franciscan Foundation has begun several programs focusing on education. Fr. Pizzaballa, Chairman of the Franciscan Foundation and Custos of the Holy Land, has consistently stressed the importance of education, particularly higher education for the Christian youth. It is his firm belief that with a college degree, students will have a better chance of securing employment and becoming a more productive member of society.

In 1997, the Franciscans began offering the College Scholarship Program to provide a free four-year college scholarship to Christians who show academic potential, but cannot afford higher education. To date, over 130 scholarship grants totaling 1.4 million dollars have been given to Christians in the area.

Proceeds from the Memorial Hall Project also assist in helping Christians find employment in the Holy Land. Currently, the majority of Christians in the region look to the tourism industry for employment. Many work as guides for pilgrims or provide transportation while others work as hotel managers or shop owners. Unfortunately, with the decline of pilgrimages to the Holy Land, the unemployment rate has skyrocketed leaving 70% of the region’s Christians unemployed.

It is difficult for Christians to find places to live due to the high unemployment and high rent. To assist them, the foundation has raised money to build nearly 300 housing units inBethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho and Nazareth. They already have future plans to build 400 more homes and a shopping center.

Finally, the foundation also provides economic assistance for all Christians regardless of age so they can live with full dignity and hope. The Franciscans offer humanitarian programs to provide furniture for homes, medical assistance for families, clothes, blankets, food supplies, diapers and toys for young children.

They also offer family counseling, child education, marriage counseling, a home for children, etc.