Australian supporters of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land have pledged to redouble their efforts after hearing a shocking assessment of its future from Latin Patriarch Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzabolla.
Justice François Kunc, the Lieutenant of the New South Wales Lieutenancy of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, recently returned from a meeting in Rome of the order’s leaders from around the world, called a consulta, where the cardinal offered a report from Jerusalem via Zoom.
“It was really dire, especially in Gaza and the most sobering line from the Cardinal Patriarch was that he doesn’t think he will need the four patriarchal schools in the region after the war but he will have to build two orphanages—that’s the reality,” he said.
He said the cardinal’s “powerful and emotional presentation” shocked the room into silence.
“Here you have around 60 experts, essentially, going, ‘Oh, that really is extraordinary’ and people started immediately thinking through the implications of where aid will have to go and how much would be required.”
The Order of the Holy Sepulchre is a lay-led religious order of knighthood, conferred upon men and women from all walks of life by the pope in his capacity as the leader of the Catholic Church.
Its 30,000-odd members around the world, around 500 in Australia, have ancient links to the first crusaders in Jerusalem. The order’s mandate is to serve the church in the Holy Land, working to maintain its presence in the place where Jesus was lived, died and was resurrected.
That means providing funding for Catholic schools, universities, parishes, hospitals, aged care facilities, social services and more throughout the large archdiocese which covers Israel and the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Cypress.
Justice Kunc spoke to The Catholic Weekly in Sydney on 24 November as a temporary truce began between Israel and Hamas, allowing the first batch of hostage swaps to take place and the admittance of fuel, medicine and other humanitarian aid into the Gaza strip.
Cardinal Pizzaballa welcomed the truce in a statement saying, “We are happy with the news and hope that this will lead to further positive development that will bring the conflict to a conclusion.”
Justice Kunc said the briefing in Rome two weeks earlier made it “very clear” that the Latin Patriarch was already looking to the future needs of Palestinian Christians after the physical devastation of war in Gaza and economic devastation throughout the territories including the West Bank.
A “re-thinking” of the best way to use just over US$20 million the worldwide order sends it each year is needed, he said.
“While humanitarian aid is a significant component of that at the moment, I think it’s going to be an even bigger component,” Justice Kunc said.
“Humanitarian and economic support is going to overtake the bricks and mortar needs because while the bricks and mortar aren’t perfect they are there and we are just going to have to help people to survive.”
Justice Kunc said that without the funds provided by the order’s members there would be no Catholic Church in the Holy Land at all, where Catholics are a minority of the less than two percent of the population that is Christian.
“They don’t have the resources to fund themselves. The burden they now have to bear is that while the war continues their main source of income, which is hosting pilgrimages, has been cancelled so apart from all the other horrors, this is visiting upon them imposed poverty.
“No one knows what will happen to the 900 or so Christians in Gaza but after this, why would you stay?
“And what’s not getting traction in the media here is the fact that the entire West Bank has also been shut down, Palestinians with work permits to work in Israel have had them suspended so people are just sitting at home.
“I’ve been told the church’s biggest pastoral challenge is to stop people leaving, and it’s not for their own sake necessarily but for their children’s.
“In keeping the faith alive in the Holy Land, unlike in your average Australian parish, the challenge for the church is to create an entire educational and economic infrastructure, that means job creation, funding activities such as tourism so that people can actually learn a living.”
To donate to Cardinal Pizzaballa’s Holy Land appeal visit www.lpj.org/posts/general-appeal.html