HOLY LAND: ‘We are the Church under the cross’

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (© ACN / A.H. Fritsch)
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (© ACN / A.H. Fritsch)

An abbot has described the severe hardship of Christians in the Holy Land and urged the faithful around the world to reflect on the ongoing crisis this Easter.

Abbot Nikodemus Schnabel of Jerusalem’s Dormition Abbey told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that those reading the Passion narratives during Holy Week will likely be reminded of the desperate situation for Christians in Gaza and elsewhere in the Holy Land.

The abbot said that Catholics – mostly migrants and asylum seekers – were among those killed by Hamas on 7th October 2023.

He added: “And on the other side, what’s happening now in Gaza? For us, as Christians, it is a catastrophe…

“We are speaking about a catastrophe for both sides, because the most horrible thing people can do is killing other people, because this is the greatest sin you can commit.”

Abbot Nikodemus highlighted the significance of Good Friday during these difficult times, saying: “Once we had a 24-hour prayer vigil in our church, we prayed all the Psalms, and we called the celebration ‘the Church under the cross’.

“This is our place as Christians, we are the Church under the cross.”

He added that Christians are also suffering in the West Bank and Jerusalem where “you cannot see the cross, because the houses are not bombed, there is no visible suffering, there are no pictures that speak to your emotional side”.

He explained that Christians throughout the Holy Land “are really in very difficult circumstances…

“They are the most vulnerable group. Their experience reflects the essence of Holy Saturday – a time of despair and invisible suffering.”

The war in Gaza has had an especially devastating financial impact on the Holy Land’s Christian community, most of whom work in the tourism sector and have lost their source of income since almost all pilgrimages to the region have been cancelled.

Despite the steep decline in the number of pilgrims and the resulting economic difficulties, Dormition Abbey has made it a priority to support its Christian staff, according to Abbot Nikodemus.

ACN has also provided emergency aid – food coupons, life-saving medicine and help with housing costs and tuition fees – for 3,448 Christians in the Holy Land who have lost their livelihoods.

The abbot said that Easter is an important test of faith for all Christians “because it is the key moment to know if we really trust in God and if we really believe what we celebrate.

“After the catastrophe, are we waiting for Easter? Do we truly believe in redemption?”

He added: “As a rational citizen of this world, I can only see war, suffering, hate, violence.

“But as a man of faith, I trust that my God can redeem, can save this world, can heal, and can create new life.

“Forgiveness. Mercy. That’s what we celebrate in Holy Week and at Easter.”

He concluded: “I hope for all Christians that there will be a new beginning and new hope, new life.”

With thanks to Maria Lozano