Holy Land Christians plead for return of pilgrims
The Custody of the Holy Land has appealed to pilgrims to return to Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem, in order to help sustain the region's Christians and economy.
"Do not leave us Christians of the Holy Land alone," implored Fr Vicenzo Ianniello, secretary of the Custody.
On Saturday the Franciscan friar described Bethlehem: "It is a deserted city. Among Christian families, whoever is able, helps others. But if the pilgrimages do not begin again, there is nothing to do."
"Nothing like this every happened before, not even during the years of the first intifada," the Franciscan said, according to the Italian newspaper Avvenire.
The Holy Land Custody continues to pay its employees, the majority of whom are fathers of families, 75% of their salary. But it is becoming harder to meet this commitment.
Hundreds of families have this problem. More than 80% of Arab Christians depend economically on activities related to pilgrimages. They are either owners or personnel of hotels and small restaurants on pilgrimage itineraries.
Catholic schools feel the fallout. Families with no income are unable to pay school fees. The Franciscans have a total of four schools in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Latin Patriarchate and other religious orders also have numerous schools.
Shrines, too, are having a hard time. Largely dependent on pilgrims' offerings, they now need help to pay their ordinary expenses.
Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land