Franciscan monks in charge of churches in the Holy Land are struggling to keep pilgrimage sites open for Christians stuck amid the ongoing conflict.
The Custody of the Holy Land, the Catholic priory tasked with administrating and protecting holy sites from the life of Jesus Christ, is working to keep pilgrimage sites open for faithful currently in Israel.
“Our sanctuaries remain open for the time being, especially to allow the pilgrimages underway to be able to carry out their spiritual experience as well as possible,” the Custody of the Holy Land wrote in a statement.
The Custody of the Holy Land maintains over 50 sanctuaries deemed holy due to their importance in the life of Jesus Christ or the history of the Christian religion.
These sanctuaries include the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is believed to have been buried after his crucifixion; the Garden of Gethsemane; the Tomb of the Prophet Isaiah; the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Jesus is believed to have been born; and the alleged site of St. Paul’s conversion.
“For more than seven centuries, the Franciscans, in times of war or peace, of excavation or work, have visited every day the places of the passion of Jesus,” Fra Stéphane, a Franciscan monk, said after a procession between holy sites. “Christ rose here! He defeated the world here! At the end of the daily procession, we pray for peace.”
“We ask the Lord for the gift of peace: for the whole world, but in particular for this martyred land, the Holy Land, for the people who live here, so that they may live together” said Fra’ Stéphane Milovitch, president of the Holy Sepulchre.
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa has actively spoken out in favor of a cease-fire since the bloodshed began.
“The continuing bloodshed and declarations of war remind us once again of the urgent need to find a lasting and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in this land,” Pizzaballa said in a statement on Saturday.
Pope Francis has contacted the only Catholic Church in the Gaza Strip as the war between Hamas and Israel continues to scar the region.
The pontiff established personal communication with the Holy Family Church on Saturday and has called multiple times to keep abreast of the parish’s situation.
The six-day-old war has already claimed at least 1,600 lives after Hamas terrorists invaded the Gaza-Israel border and attacked towns and villages. Israel saw gun battles in the streets of its own towns for the first time in decades.