Friends of the Holy Land

FHL logoFriends of the Holy Land Fundraiser

4th July 2017


The 4th July  fund raiser at Eton Place appears to have been most enjoyable.  It was a sell out, parochial boundaries were down (thank God) and fifty good people representing eight local Catholic churches raised £650 for Friends of the Holy Land.  His Grace, Archbishop Emeritus Patrick, although unable to come, was generous with his good wishes, and Fr Mark Madden KCHS proved a most able substitute.  We were also joined by Fr Andrew Burns CSSR, Fr Jim Casey CSSR, seminarian Tom Clarke, and local pp Fr Tim Buckley CSSR visited. 

FHL logoThe latest edition of the Friends of the Holy Land Newsletter is available please click here.


A video on the Suffering Church


One of the FHL trustees the Archbishop of Canterbury recently met the FHL team in Bethlehem - to learn more click here.

FHL logo   Some news from Friends of the Holyland

  To read about grants to vulnerable Christiane please click here

 For news from Bethlenhem University please click here

Please remember that the noon Mass at Bishop Eton on the first Saturday of the month is for Peace and Justice in the Holy Land.


Homily of Most Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa for Christmas 2016


Christmas Night

“Behold: the Lord is at the gates!” (cf. James 5:9).

Christmas is the entrance of the Son of God into the world: Christ enters the world, he comes among his people. And before Him all is an opening and a closing of doors. In the time following the Jubilee of Mercy, we can interpret Christmas as the door that God keeps open to go out to man and invite him to enter into communion with him.

At Christmas, first of all, the Gate of God is opened, from which comes the Son, Emmanuel, God-with-us. The heavens open: from the birth up to the baptism of the Lord all is an opening of the gates of heaven from which the angels go out and return, announcing and preparing the coming of the Spirit. Most of all, the human and divine heart of the Son open up: “For this reason, entering the world, Christ says: “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, instead you have prepared a body for me; you have not delighted in holocausts nor in sin offerings. Then I said: Behold, I come – as it is written of me in the scroll of the book – to do your will, O God” (Heb 10: 5-7). Christ opens wide the doors of his life as much as to say I am the gate: if one enters through me, he will be saved; and will enter and go out and find pasture.” (Jn 10:9). He is in person “the Lord’s own gate, through it the righteous enter” (Ps 118:20).

At the open Gate of God, correspond open doors for men and women willing to let Him enter: the heart of Mary and Joseph, with a “yes” without hesitation; the doors of the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah; the generous journey of the shepherds and the Magi, of Simeon and Anna…

But there are also doors that close, “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him.” (Jn 1:11).  Closed were the heart of Herod, the houses of those who have no room for him, the life of those who already have to protect their possessions, their projects to be realized, and their ideas to be enforced.

I like this image of the door: it evokes, recalls, invites to run the risk of the freedom that opens or closes, and so makes possible or impossible the peace that we await, the encounter that saves. The Birth of Christ and of Christians, in fact, is not the magic or sentimental celebration that we can live locked up in our houses, secure in personal, familiar or social enclosures. It is not the enjoyment, as much private as independent and indifferent, of an escape from the harsh realities of everyday life, a colored and glittering diversion within a very grim life.

Christmas is the announcement of a salvation that waits to be accepted to find fulfillment. Like Mary after the angel’s announcement, like Joseph after the heavenly dream, like the shepherds after hearing the song of the angels, like the Magi after seeing the star, we too are invited to set out, to make the commitment, to go out from our laziness and our reasoning to go up to Bethlehem, to enter the new time of life and peace, the Kingdom that Christ ushers in. The door is opened, our freedom is invited.

I am well aware that we are all victims of a growing sense of insecurity and mistrust. Hopes of peace too often disappointed, violence in recurrent attacks, so much rhetorical and ineffective speech push us to withdraw, to lock the doors, to set up surveillance systems, to run far away rather than to remain resisting in trust and hope.

We fear the stranger who knocks at the door of our home and at the borders of our countries. Closed doors, defended borders, before personal and political choices, are a metaphor for the fear that inevitably breed the violent dynamics of the present time. We are frightened by what happens in the world, with our hopes that, here, as in many countries around the world, drown in the midst of corruption, in the power of money, in sectarian violence, in fear: in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan. But also in our Holy Land, the thirst for justice, dignity, truth and true love continues to grow. But we continue to reject and deny each other, living and thinking as if we only were there and there was no place there for the other. “There was no place for them in the inn.” (Lk 2:7).

Our fears determine our choices and our orientations. We are tired and disoriented by what is happening around us and we cannot find the direction for our journey. We do not find a star that guides us.

It is not just a sociological fact, it is rather an existential phenomenon, a “psychology of the enemy” that fatally turns into ideology, begetting an aggressive lifestyle, a conflicting way of placing oneself before others, with no hope for the future. From house doors to states’ borders, all is closed, in fear and mistrust, in exclusion and war. We all feel excluded, blocked, separated.

Christmas, however, tells of a joy and a peace that come if we will have the good will to open doors; if we will share the good will of God which opens instead of closing, gives instead of taking, forgives instead of avenging oneself. We can move from the ideology of the enemy to the logic of brotherhood, moved by a God who had faith in man even before we trusted in him. If God had no fear or contempt for man (non horruisti Virginis uterum, “you were not afraid to make yourself a man”, sings an ancient hymn of the Church), we too can learn the courageous trust that opens to the other the doors of dialogue and encounter. Salvation and peace, encounter and concord are, in fact, a grace to ask from Him Who, on this holy night, we precisely acclaim Prince of Peace. But they become authentic and real if accepted and carried out by hands and hearts that are open and, courageously and generously, set upon a new way of thinking, new behaviors, new projects, as brave and generous as Christ was when he came to share our life by giving us His.

In this land of our and in this world of ours, where many speak of peace and life but few decide to cross the threshold of commitment and decision, Christmas repeats the invitation to open the doors to Christ who wants make Himself known, and to man. Through the rites and prayers of this holy night, the Father, in Christ His Son, comes again to meet man and ask him: where are you? (cf. Gen 3:9) and to invite him to enter into the house of brotherhood.

Will we cross the threshold? It is not in effect a slogan. It is an invitation addressed to man and to society, to politics and to economics, to the poor and the powerful of this world: will we come out of our enclosures, will we open the door of our judgments and prejudices and will we go to meet Him, who calls us? Will we go to Bethlehem to begin a new journey or will we be closed in our palaces to protect our power, to defend our interests, ready even to exclude the other while maintaining our positions? Keeping our gaze on the Holy Child, will we know how to give an answer to the thirst for justice and dignity, to the desire for love and brotherhood, to the need of encounter or will we put our trust in our short-term political or military strategies?

Will we have the courage to let ourselves be provoked by the Holy Child, setting aside special interests, and to look at the other as a brother, in the full liberty of the children of God, stripping ourselves of all violence, oppression and arrogance?

The answer is not written in the stars but in our free and responsible choices. And while we look to the Christ Child, open Door of the Father that no rejection can close, trust is renewed and hope is revived and we sing again: In te domine sperávi: non confundar in aeternum, You are our hope: we will not be disappointed!


+ Pierbattista

The Holy Land re-visited.        

Some personal reflections on the KHS pilgrimage 2016 by Dave Hart


A treasured memory of any pilgrimage to the Holy Land is to watch the pink hues of the sky as the sun rises in the east from behind the Golan Heights, to reflect across the Sea of Galilee, the lake placid and attended only by the occasional fishing boat, and hungry birdlife. To observe this timeless scene means an early start, a 6 am alarm call!  Earlier in the pilgrimage there had been similar “early alarm calls” that had brought us rushing through the empty alleys of Jerusalem to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for 6.30 Mass on Calvary with fellow pilgrims.

We stayed at the Knight’s Palace Hotel which formed part of Jerusalem’s old city walls, between the New and Jaffa gates, part of the Latin quarter and beside De La Salle High School.  It was conveniently situated for reaching the Way of the Cross, and the familiar places of prayer and worship associated with the Old Testament, and the lives of Jesus and Mary:  the pool at Bethesda; the St Anne’s, Pater Noster and Dominus Flevit churches; Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, the Dormiton, the Cenacle, and the church of St Peter in Gallicantu.

For the knights and dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre the pilgrimage we visited places where there was evidence of our continual financial support, (support for the Christian community being the commission awarded by Pope Pius IX when he re-established the Order).   This gratitude was formally extended to us when we met the new Patriarch, Archbishop Pizzabella, after Mass at the Latin Patriarchate, Jerusalem.

hlm5We visited a patriarchate school in the city of Nablus and there was great excitement in the classrooms, and many high fives, when out leader, Archbishop McMahon, made his entry. The children entertained us with some fine traditional music.  Later we had time to admire our gifts from the children, a ballpoint pen and some “Arafat” soap made with salts from the Dead Sea.  We visited nearby St Justin’s Church, a parish well known to both our pilgrimage’s spiritual director Father Mark Madden, and to Archbishop Emeritus Patrick Kelly.  That evening supper was prepared by the seminarians at Beit Jala where I made the acquaintance of Riaz.  His family, originally Jordanian, had recently been forced to leave Syria and return to seek refuge with relatives in Jordan, and he thought that I looked tired!

The next day we prayed at the Shepherds Fields, followed by Mass in St Catherine’s Church at the Church of the Nativity.  Our singing was often  accompanied on the organ played by Father Andrew Cameron Mowatt SJ, from Farm Street, one of our group.

After lunch had been prepared and served by the “Hotel Management” under-graduates at Bethlehem University,  Brother Touhy FSC thanked us for our continued financial commitment to both the Patriarchate and the University, but I detected a less optimistic note in the students’ responses about their future during the customary open forum. 

Later, at the Carmel of the Holy Child of Jesus, Bethlehem, Mother Superior described the excitement of meeting the Pope when he canonised a former member of their community, Sr. Miriam Bouardy, now St. Mary of Jesus Crucified, a Palestinian, whose short life provides a story that is worth reading. 

hlm29Each evening we returned to the Knight’s Palace to for a quick beverage before dinner.  As I sat in my on my favourite bar stool, Father Mark recommended the Cremisan Brandy. It was excellent,  but there were those discerning drinkers amongst us who preferred a bottle of the local Palestinian “Taybeh” lager.  There is also fine wine produced at Cremisan by the Salesians.  The bar manageress, always busy and smiling, had a degree in hotel management and, for a Palestinian, was surprisingly well travelled.  It was discovered that she played international soccer for Palestine, the women’s team being made up largely of Christians. An Armenian Catholic herself, she chose to live locally in her parent’s home, despite the discrimination against Christian Palestinians living in Jerusalem.  (Her goals can be seen on You Tube if you look under the name “Caroline Sahagian”) 

We visited the Convent of the Salesian Sisters at Cremisan. There they provide education especially for children requiring special care. The school, vineyards and olive groves are now under threat because of the annexation wall. It was there that members of the Society of St Yves, the Catholic Centre for Human Rights, has distributed case documents and legal rulings about “the wall” since it took up the case in 2010.  Funded by the Patriarchate, it provides free advice and legal support for the “poor and the oppressed”, managing some 900 cases per year, assisting 2000 people!  

hlm14Beneath the wall, in Beir Onah village, Father Aktham had been drawn to tears as he talked about the injustices suffered by his flock, many of whom would be forced to leave Palestine.  No longer do these farmers look out over their fields after their “early call” each day.  The view of their land is now blocked by a 26 foot high concrete wall, over which passes a towering motorway, built for the sole use of Israeli settlers. The farmers are denied access to their land it will soon become fallow and, eventually, can legally be confiscated by the government of Israel.

On Sunday we received a warm welcome from parishioners after Mass at the church of the Annunciation, Beit Jala. At the beginning of Mass Father Aktham introduced us to a lovely local custom when he laid a new born baby on the altar and then raised the infant above his head in prayer, watched closely by proud but anxious parents. When mingling with the crowd afterwards I met Lourdes, a member of the choir. She had four brothers and sisters and her mother explained how Lourdes had survived a difficult birth due to prayers to Our Lady of Lourdes. I mistakenly enquired if she had ever been to Lourdes. “Lourdes” she said, and pointed. “We can’t even go to our mother church in Jerusalem, over there!”  As we parted she asked that a candle be lit for Our Blessed Lady at the Grotto in Lourdes.

The day before, on the Jewish Sabbath, a visit to Ein Kerem valley was on the schedule.  A personal favourite, it has two ornate churches, St John the Baptist, and the Visitation.  It represents the meeting place of anxious and expectant mothers, cousins Mary and Elizabeth.   Mary’s prayer the “Magnificat” is prominently displayed.  Whilst there, the rural peace was suddenly broken by the cry of a baby.  Quite significant in today’s world!

The pilgrimage moved north to the green and fertile hills of Northern Galilee, and we stayed in the convent at the Mount of the Beatitudes. From here our coach took us to Nazareth for Mass at the superb Basilica of the Annunciation, followed by a visit to St. Joseph’s Church, and museum nearby.  We joined formal prayer at the Angelus in the Grotto of the Annunciation. The afternoon was spent in prayer and reflection on Mount Tabor. 

On another day a trip west, to the Mediterranean coast, took us to Caesarea Maritime, home of Pontius Pilate, where St Paul had been held during his journey to Rome.  Mass that day was held at the convent at Carmel, built over Elijah’s cave.  There were excellent views of the port of Haifa through which we passed on our way to Acre (now called Akka) the last stronghold of the Crusaders.  In this region time seems to stand still, and there is a wealth of superb archaeological evidence of previous civilisations, a heritage which is in danger of being destroyed by those who have no respect for the tremendous history and culture of those who live in the region.

Back to the shore of the Sea of Galilee to an itinerary that included Mass at the Primacy of Peter Church with its views towards Tiberias, a visit to the Church of the Multiplication, the traditional “fishing boat” trip, a visit to Capernaum to see the synagogue, and St Peter’s home.  Father Mark provided a most unusual homily at the Primacy of Peter.  Galilee brings the New Testament to life!

hlm59The sun continued to shine for the final Mass, which was again celebrated by His Grace. The altar, designed as a wooden fishing boat to remind us that recently discovered Magdala was a fishing town, possibly home to Mary Magdalen.  It had been destroyed by the Romans when they put down the Zealot uprising during the first century.  Thanks to generations of painstaking custodial work by the Franciscans, another site has been discovered, purchased and excavated, a site on which are the remains of one of the largest synagogues yet to be discovered.

Homeward, near the airport, we prayed at and the tomb of St. George, in the ornate Greek Orthodox church at Lod (formerly Lydda).  St. George, a Roman officer, died because he refused to persecute Christians.  Forget the dragons,  maybe he is a patron saint of our time in today’s secular world?  Later, at Jaffa, we recalled another significant episode in the life of the early church at the prominent Church of St. Peter. 

Escaping from the rain provided the excuse for a final, farewell ice cream!  Another pilgrimage to the Holy Land had been spiritually “life changing”, a wonderful pilgrimage, well organised, finely led, and in good company.                                                                                               


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News from Friends of the HolyLand


The monthly Mass for Peace in the Holy Land is scheduled for noon on Saturday 3rd September at Bishop Eton. 

Sir Vincent Fean  is to address the KHS at Southwark this coming November. Now retired, he is a patron of  the Palestine Friendship and Twinning Association and on the Board of Trustees of Medical Aid for Palestinians. He was British High Commissioner to Malta (2002-6), HM Ambassador to  Libya(2006-10) and British Consul General to Jerusalem (2010-14)

An article by Sir Vincent Fean on Recognising Palestinian statehood:

Channel 4 recently showed, a great Israeli sitcom 'The Baker & the Beauty' 

The next monthly Mass for Peace & Justice in the Holy Land will be on Saturday 3rd September  at 12 noon.

To see the August 2016 Friends of the Holy Land Update click here

The next monthly Mass for Peace & Justice in the Holy Land will be on Saturday 7th May at 12 noon.

To see the April 2016 Friends of the Holy Land Update click here