(SNR) - In the face of the threat to Christianity in the Holy Land, Catholics in Nebraska are invited to participate in a special holy hour at six different locations April 14. This "Holy Hour for the Holy Land" is being organized by the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land: Nebraska Region.
Holy Hour for the Holy Land will begin at 3 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln, Saints Peter and Paul Church in Falls City and Saint Cecilia in Hastings. At 4:30, a holy hour will be held at Saint Patrick Parish in McCook.
In the Archdiocese of Omaha, there will be holy hours at 4:30 p.m. at Saint Peter Parish in Omaha and Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler.
Father Jay Buhman, pastor of Saint Peter Parish in Bellwood, has been helping the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land set up a Nebraska Region since going on several pilgrimages to the Holy Land himself.
"This is important for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that Christians are the presence of Christ in the Holy Land," he said. "It’s our Mother Church."
Father Buhman emphasized that all Catholics should be concerned about protecting their brothers and sisters in Christ who live in the Holy Land, because this is the area where God chose to bring salvation to all.
"There would be no Rome if it wasn’t for what happened in the Holy Land," he reasoned. "There would be no Diocese of Lincoln. There’d be nothing like that at all."
Despite living and working in the same land where Jesus lived, died and rose again, Christians in the Holy Land face extreme persecution, including military occupation, violence, extreme poverty, lack of work opportunities, and other issues.
Father Buhman said the separation wall has made it even harder for Christians to find work, due to unbelievably high unemployment.
"They don’t want to leave," he stressed. "They want to stay. Imagine living in these holy places! But if they can’t support their families, they are forced to leave."
Indeed, the population of Christians in the Holy Land has dwindled from 18% to only 1.5% during the last 60 years. According to the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, in another 60 years, Christianity could easily cease to exist in the Holy Land altogether.
Today, there are only about 150,000 Christians living in the Holy Land. Approximately 500 Christian families leave the area each year, seeking the freedom to find work in Europe and the United States.
"I think we owe something to these people who are direct descendants of the people the Lord chose to reveal Himself to," Father Buhman said.
If Christians cannot find the means to stay in the Holy Land, that would leave the region – already beset by ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, who both claim ownership of the Holy Land – unwelcoming to Christians from around the world who wish to go on pilgrimages to the sites where Jesus Himself lived and taught.
Father Buhman speculated that the Franciscan Foundation would also have to leave the region, and the numerous holy sites that Christians have been journeying to on pilgrimage for nearly 2,000 years would fall into the hands of Jewish or Muslim governments who do not value Christian heritage.
To combat this exodus, the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land: Nebraska Region is urging all Catholics to make the Holy Hour for the Holy Land, especially those who have made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the past.
During Holy Hour for the Holy Land, four intentions will be offered: for peace in the Holy Land, for the Christians living in the Holy Land, for the work of the Franciscan Foundation and for the work of the Latin patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land was founded in 1994. This worldwide ecumenical organization is based in the United States and works to help stem the Christian exodus from the Holy Land by providing education, employment and housing to enable the Christian population in the Holy Land to survive despite persecution and ethnic distrust.