(Catholic Times) The recent surge of refugees from Syria into Europe has turned the attention of the world to the plight of those who are suffering from the ongoing and escalating animosity, conflict, and violence in the Holy Land. One group that is especially endangered in this tragedy are the Christians who have called this land home ever since their ancestors answered the call to become the first disciples of Christ. At the heart of this region, in Israel and Palestine, Christians once comprised more than 20 percent of the population. While they have not thus far faced the violent attacks currently taking place in Iraq and Syria, they have for many years been under severe economic and political pressure from the dominant Jewish and Muslim populations in that area. Many have been forced to emigrate to Europe and the United States because they no longer could make a life for themselves in places like Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. Today there are barely 150,000 Christians remaining in the place where Our Lord walked, taught, died, and was resurrected to create our Church and ensure our salvation.
Ten years ago a group of Catholics from this diocese made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and resolved to be “doers of the word and not hearers only” by taking action to support Holy Land Christians in their effort to stay and build a life for their children in the land that is their heritage.
The group is known as Cradling Christianity. Since 2006, it has raised more than three-quarters of a million dollars in Columbus to provide housing, job opportunities, and education that enable Christians to remain in the Holy Land.
Its 10th anniversary event, consisting of a Mass and dinner, took place Thursday, Sept. 10, at Columbus St. Charles Preparatory School. Father Peter Vasko, OFM, president of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land in Jerusalem, presided at the Mass, which was concelebrated by nine priests from the Diocese of Columbus. More than 300 people attended the dinner in the Walter Commons and heard author, radio commentator, and Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid speak about the importance of Catholics living their faith through action such as the support of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.
The event also included the presentation of a special award by Father Vasko. Gene and Judy Alfonsi were honored as “Defenders of the Holy Land” for their outstanding leadership and support of the work of the Franciscans in the Holy Land over many years.