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placeholder April 20, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
Catholics' life in Holy Land one of hardship

Alfred Ra'ad stands inside the door of St. Francis Store, a souvenir shop in Old City Jerusalem, on March 13. A decline in the number of pilgrims visiting the Holy Land plus a growing sense of persecution have led to hard times for Ra'ad and his family.
COURTESY PHOTO/THE CRITERION

Old City Jerusalem St. Francis Store souvenir shop owner Alfred Ra'ad was warm and friendly when the archdiocesan pilgrims patronized his store just inside the city's New Gate.

But the 56-year-old married father of three seemed worn down.

In an email exchange, he explained the reason for his condition.

"I feel very persecuted from Jews and Muslims," the Roman Catholic man admits. "I feel treated as lower class in the city. There is discrimination in religion, social cooperation and jobs, high rent of apartments by Muslims, diverse heavy taxes and low income."

Ra'ad's income didn't used to be so low. He writes that his store, owned by his family since 1960, used to bring in more than $500 each day. But in the last four years, he states, daily sales range from $20-$150.

He attributes part of the decrease in sales to a tramway that was built outside the New Gate, eliminating parking for buses that dropped off the pilgrims so vital to his business.

 
Second in a series

For more information about the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land: www.ffhl.org.
 
But the root cause goes much deeper, writes Ra'ad, back to 1987 with the first Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The Intifada lasted until 1994, causing a decrease in pilgrims to the Holy Land. The second Intifada, from 2000-05, didn't help.

Other elements have factored into the economic hardship, Ra'ad explains, including the downturn of the world's economy, the legal effects of local politics and wars in the Middle East.

Having college-age children exacerbates the strain, Ra'ad admits.

But herein lies one glimmer of hope.

Through his and his family's membership in the Franciscan-run St. Savior Church in Jerusalem, Ra'ad heard about the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land.

The organization, whose public relations arm is operated through Tekton Ministries in Carmel, Indiana, just north of Indianapolis in the Lafayette Diocese, is dedicated to helping Christians remain present in the Holy Land. Many groups in the archdiocese, including the one that visited the Holy Land in February, have taken pilgrimages designed and led by Tekton Ministries in association with the FFHL.

"They gave my daughter a full scholarship [to college], which helped to have less expenses," writes Ra'ad. "Truly, they help students to learn, to obtain a career for future life and to serve the Christian community here."

He supports the work of the FFHL not just because of the scholarship, but because they "help financially to save our existence in the town [of Jerusalem] in the land of Jesus," adding that "only about 6,000 Roman Catholics [remain] in Jerusalem."

Ra'ad hopes to meet more members of the archdiocese face to face in the Holy Land. He encourages priests who [visit] to direct pilgrims to the "last 40 Christian souvenir shops remaining [among] the 1,000-plus Muslim shops.

"They need direct help and support so as not to emigrate more [to the point of] no more Christians in the Holy Land."

(Editor's note: On Feb. 4-15, 51 pilgrims from in and around the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, including Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, traveled through the Holy Land. This reflection was written by Natalie Hoefer, staff reporter for The Criterion newspaper.)
 
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