For Christians in the Holy Land who have endured many hardships, Lent is a time of hope and reassurance. Pope Francis explains: “Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children. Lent is the road leading from slavery to freedom, from suffering to joy, from death to life” (Homily for Ash Wednesday 2017).
For the third year in a row, Lent and Easter will look very different in the Holy Land with the absence of tens of thousands of faithful pilgrims from around the world.
“Holy Week continues to play a pivotal role in Christian spirituality. It marks the culmination of salvation history; beginning with desperate suffering and ending in joyous hope,” says Father Peter F. Vasko, OFM. “As a Franciscan friar who has lived and ministered in the Holy Land for the last thirty-five years, this week has particular meaning for me. We Franciscans continue the legacy of our founder and father, St. Francis of Assisi, who, some 800 years ago was entrusted with protecting the holy sites in this precious land. We also have a special calling to minister to the indigenous Christians here, those ‘Guardians of Christianity’ who have courageously maintained their faith and heritage over these many centuries in spite of misunderstanding,
persecution, discrimination and suffering. To be in Jerusalem on Good Friday is an experience unlike any other. To join the throngs jamming the Via Dolorosa where Christ carried His cross, to stand for a moment at the first station where Jesus was scourged, crowned, and then condemned to death by Pilate is a moving encounter for any believer.”
Although due to the pandemic, Father Peter won’t be able to escort pilgrims through the cramped streets of Jerusalem, or the byways of Nazareth this Easter, he looks forward to hopefully welcoming pilgrims in the Fall to see where Christ walked and experience what life is like for His followers in the Holy Land today. Please visit https://ffhl.org/holy-land-pilgrimages to find out more about FFHL’s planned pilgrimages.
Pilgrimages are a lifeline for the many Holy Land residents who rely on tourism. At its height in 2019, tourism was booming with 4.5 million visitors and revenue of over $7 billion, largely attributed to Christian pilgrims. In 2020, the pandemic decimated Israel’s tourism industry when only a few hundred thousand visitors were able to travel to Israel. Last year, visitors climbed to 400,000, bringing in $618 million in revenue for the region, but still far below 2019’s level. FFHL hopes to begin Pilgrimages again in Fall 2022.
Fr. Peter F. Vasko joins Raymond Arroyo on The World Over to discuss the challenges COVID-19 has had on the Holy Land community. Fr. Peter shares how Christians, especially those in the hospitality industry have been hit hardest. Watch the full interview here: