In many ways, the Christians of the Holy Land rely on pilgrimages for their survival. In 2019 over 4.5 million pilgrims flocked to the holy sites to experience the places of Christ’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection. The pounds and dollars pumped into the local economy, with tourists buying goods such as olive wood carvings – rosaries and icons – help sustain the region’s Christians as they face severe socio-economic hardship.
All this has changed in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent global restrictions on travel has turned off this essential financial lifeline.
The Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Reverend John Wilson, is the newly-appointed Grand Prior of the Lieutenancy of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in England and Wales. The Knights and Dames support the ‘Living Stones’ – the Christians of the Holy Land.
Archbishop Wilson encourages us to keep the Christians of the Holy Land in our prayers and tells us how we can help.
We use the word solidarity an awful lot – to stand alongside, to stand solid. It’s so important that we stand in solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land.
We know that many of them earn their living – they’re able to provide for their families and their children – because of pilgrimage work. When that doesn’t happen, as at this present time, it’s very difficult for Christians in the Holy Land.
There are a number of things that we, as ordinary people, can do. We don’t have to be members of the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre, just people with a good heart. Christian people who want to help.
The first important thing we can do is pray.
We pray that the difficulties that our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land face – the political difficulties, the difficulties of work and finance, the difficulties of education and health care – that these difficulties be lifted and that the Lord works through the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and minds, to bring about peace and justice.
The second thing we can do is, if we’re able, is to offer our support financially.
And there are many, many different charities that work in the Holy Land. To find one that we feel confident is able to support the Christians of the Holy Land, and, if we can, give them some money.
A third thing that we can do is actually find the organisations that make available, in our country, things made by Christians in the Holy Land.
A lot of things are carved out of olive wood – beautiful statues, cribs, icons, rosaries. Lots of gifts that are produced in the Holy Land and then brought, through different organisations and charities, to this country. And especially as we’re coming towards Christmas, maybe we can buy a gift to give to somebody else. In doing that, we help the Christians – same with Christmas cards as well. This will also help sustain the economy in the Holy Land, because without a thriving economy, Christians will not be able to remain. And for Christians not to be able to remain in the Holy Land, where Our Lord walked, where he exercised his ministry, would be such a terrible, terrible shame.
I was in the Holy Land in 2018 and we met a number of different Christian groups and organisations, some charitable groups. We learned how very tough it is for Christians to continue in the Holy Land. So any support we can give, in any kind of way, will really, really make a difference.