More than 60 Anglican and Roman Catholic representatives gathered at Lambeth Palace last week for FHL's second national Diocesan Coordinators conference. With 25 Catholic and Anglican dioceses represented, it reflected FHL's ecumenical and apolitical credentials. Dean Hosam Naoum of St Georges Cathedral in Jerusalem urged those attending to engage in "hope filled action" by working together through FHL to support vulnerable Christians living in the Holy Land. The day focused on the importance of pilgrimage, particularly the experience of ecumenical pilgrimage, and the growth and success of FHL since its foundation in 2009.
The Rt Revd Dr John Inge, Bishop of Worcester, who chaired the morning session said: "The strength of FHL shows how God can grow significant initiatives out of the smallest things. FHL helps us in our role as Christians to bring hope in what can appear to be a hopeless situation."
Peter Rand, FHL's Vice Chairman and Executive Trustee Peter outlined the growth in FHL since its formation in 2009. He traced its origins back to the grass roots actions of a small group of returning pilgrims, led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, so moved by the plight of their fellow Christians they had to act. Since then the charity has generated an income of over £3.1 million and directly supports 2,000 Christian families living in the Holy Land.
Peter, who is about to make his 20th visit to the West Bank and Israel said: "Our achievements in the seven short years of our existence have been significant. We have a Bethlehem based Holy Land Committee, who are our eyes and ears in the West Bank. Unlike many charities working in this area, we are registered with the Palestinian National Authority as an NGO, and have our own local Palestinian bank account. This means we can swiftly transfer money to support Christian families and projects in our key areas of education, employment, health and housing."
He continued: "FHL supports Christians wherever they live in the Holy Land. These include the needy Christians in the hard-pressed yet resilient communities of Gaza, West Bank Christians facing a life of water shortages and restricted travel, and Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan forced to flee for their faith. I have recently met with some very poor Christian migrant groups in Tel Aviv and Jaffa with a view to FHL supporting those needy Christian communities."
Conference headline speaker, Dean Hosam Naoum, thanked FHL for their ecumenical effort in supporting the 'Living Stones' of the Holy Land and quoted Luke 12:32 'Do not be afraid little flock."
He reminded delegates: "Christian emigration deprives our churches and communities when the Holy Land needs our loving service of transformation. Religion should be part of the solution and not the problem; transforming the love of power to the power of love."
To find out more about the work of FHL or to make a donation please visit www.friendsoftheholyland.org.uk
Friends of the Holy Land (FHL) is a charity established in England and Wales, supporting and helping Christian people and communities in the Holy Land to ensure the survival of a Christian presence. Our Charity registration number is 1130054.
The Christian people of the Holy Land have been under increasing economic and political pressure in the past seventy years, and during that time, the Christian population there has steadily fallen. FHL was established in 2009 to help and encourage Christians to flourish in the land of their birth, ensuring a secure presence in the land where Christianity began. Working closely with the churches here and in the Holy Land, our work is entirely apolitical, and has the backing and blessing of Anglican and Catholic Bishops in England and Wales.
FHL's objectives are
• raising awareness of the challenges facing the Christians of the Holy Land
• encouraging prayers for our Christian brothers and sisters
• generating and channeling financial resources to give them a sustainable future
• encouraging visits to the Holy Land to meet local Christians
Christians in the Holy Land
Bethlehem and Jerusalem once bustled with local Christians. The Holy Land, birthplace of Christianity, is central to the Christian faith, though now only about 200,000 Christians remain there, between 1% and 2% of the population. Those who remain suffer from restrictions to travel, high levels of unemployment and poverty, poor living conditions, a shortage of social services and affordable health care, and constant uncertainty about their present and future.
FHL believes that the Holy Land must not become a mere cultural museum. It must continue to be the home of a vibrant, secure, thriving Christian community, the 'living stones' of our faith. We support Christian people and communities, especially children and the elderly, to help them stay there, improve their lives and develop the resilience they need to survive the many difficulties they face.
Supporting Christians in the Holy Land
Many international agencies are active in the Holy Land, supporting major projects. FHL concentrates on smaller, sustainable projects that quickly make a big difference to local Christian families, especially the most vulnerable. Our projects fall into four main categories;
FHL supports education in the Holy Land as a vital way to ensure the future of Christian communities, funding students at schools and universities when this is beyond the resources of their families. We also support the School of Joy, offering education for children with special needs.
We provide 'seed corn' funding to help new businesses and generate employment, particularly for young people.
We fund medicines, operations and hospital visits, and contribute to the hospital treatment of the neediest Christians at St Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Nablus and the Medical Centre for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Diseases in Ramallah. Since its foundation in 2009 FHL has supported St Martha's House, the first day-care centre for elderly women in Bethlehem.
We support projects to divide family houses into two units, and to repair and renovate family homes.
Many of FHL's projects are in the West Bank, where most of the Christian families of the Holy Land remain, although we also work in Gaza, Israel and in Jordan where FHL is supporting Christian Iraqi refugees.
FHL believes that Christian pilgrims should both visit the Holy Places of our faith and spend time with the Christian people of the Holy Land, to observe the difficulties they face and the frustrations and insecurity that are a major part of their lives. It is also the best way to show our support, friendship, affection and gratitude, so they know they are not alone. FHL supports the Christian economy by encouraging pilgrimage companies to use Christian-owned restaurants, hotels and transportation companies whenever possible. FHL believe that locally based Christian tour operators can provide the best experience for Christian Pilgrims.
FHL has a National Management Committee reporting to a Board of Trustees who meet regularly to guide our work in the Holy Land, review progress and plan future projects. The Trustees ensure full accountability for funds raised and distributed by FHL and its partners. We also have a Holy Land Committee, with its roots in the Christian community, to advise on local issues and identify areas for our support. FHL supporters are mainly organised through groups in Anglican and Catholic parishes across England and Wales. Each group has a team to organise fundraising events and increase awareness of the many issues facing Christians in the Holy Land.