Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - On Sunday, March 16, Catholics in the Lincoln area will have the opportunity to assist Christians in the Holy Land at a fundraising dinner and auction supporting the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL). Bishop James D. Conley will be joined by FFHL president Father Peter Vasko, O.F.M and keynote speaker Father Ryan Lewis of the Archdiocese of Omaha.
The dinner and accompanying silent and live “hidden” auction will be hosted at the Lincoln Country Club. Tickets are $50 per person, and reservations must be received by Sunday, March 9.
Sister Mary Kansier, M.S., one of the organizers of the event, said when she was on a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she learned just how desperate the situation is for Christians in that country.
“Because of the economic conditions in the Holy Land, Christians are leaving the country in huge numbers,” she said.
With an unemployment rate running between 50-70% in the region, a majority of Christians in the area live below the poverty line, or less than $3,000 a year.
Since Christians are the minority by far (less than 2% of the total population), they tend to be passed over for both jobs and housing by people of other religions who prefer to help those who share their beliefs.
“There are not enough Christians to take care of their own,” Sister Kansier stated. “They need help.”
She related a story she heard of a Christian family who finally found reasonably priced housing, only to have their non-Christian landlord raise their rent dramatically six weeks later. They were forced out on the streets, desperate for shelter yet again.
For that family and many others, it often becomes a matter of necessity to move to another nation where they can survive. At the current rate of exodus, some predict that there could be no Christians left in the Holy Land within 40 years.
This sad reality threatens all the pilgrimages sites that Christians hold dear. The Franciscans who work in the Holy Land are not just pastors to the people. They maintain and manage Mount Calvary’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Mount Tabor (site of the Transfiguration), and the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, among others.
If there is no Christian population for these Franciscan friars to tend to as pastors, the ruling Muslim authorities could order them out of the country. That would leave these important Christian sites to be managed by those who have a completely different ideology about them.
“If Christians leave the Holy Land, it will be without a soul,” Sister Kansier said.
The FFHL works to enable Christians to stay in the country through 15 effective programs. They offer humanitarian aid, such as outreach to children and orphans, and social services. They run a job placement program and provide subsidized housing and home renovations when needed.
The Franciscans also offer educational assistance. They sponsor children’s tuition for the local Franciscan schools and provide older students with university and vocational school scholarships so they can qualify for higher-paying jobs.
“They give Catholic young people these scholarships with an agreement that they will stay in the Holy Land when they graduate,” Sister Kansier explained.
While she was in the area, Sister Kansier had the opportunity to meet Fouad Twal, patriarch of Jerusalem. Somebody in her pilgrimage group asked his excellence what Americans could do to help Christians in the region.
“First, he wants us to pray for Christians of Holy Land,” she said. “Second, pilgrimages. Pilgrims coming to the Holy Land is a huge boost to their moral and their economy.”
She continued, “The third is to support these Franciscan projects.”
Hence, the March 16 dinner and auction, the brainchild of Sister Kansier, Father Jay Buhman, and concerned laypeople.
All the money raised at the March 16 event will go to the FFHL to be used for their programs. Father Peter Vasko, president of FFHL, will give a short presentation.
The “hidden” auction will have two parts, silent and live. For the silent auction, guests will be shown a list of numbered items that have been donated. The items will be displayed, but they will be disguised in various packages. Part of the fun is guessing what one is bidding on.
The live auction will start with bidding. The top bidder will take his or her pick from a list of donated prizes. Then the next bidder will then get to choose, and so on, until all the items have been spoken for.
All are welcome to attend. A social hour begins at 4 p.m., followed by dinner at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person. Underwriters may donate $500 for a table of eight. Please make your reservations immediately, as the deadline is March 9. To RSVP, call (402) 643-4802.
For more information about the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, visit www.ffhl.org.