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Pope to Catholics in Holy Land: May hope arise from seeds sown in pain

In an Easter Letter addressed to Catholics in the Holy Land, Pope Francis expresses his spiritual closeness and paternal affection, and encourages Christians around the world to offer concrete support and prayers for peace.

By Christopher Wells

Pope Francis has written to Catholics in the Holy Land, assuring them that they are daily in his thoughts and prayers.

“I embrace all of you, in the variety of your rites, dear Catholic faithful living throughout the Holy Land,” he writes, adding, “In a particular way, I embrace those most affected by the senseless tragedy of war: the children robbed of their future, those who grieve and are in pain, and all who find themselves prey to anguish and dismay.”

In his letter, released on Wednesday, the Holy Father recognizes the special significance of Easter for those who live in the places sanctified by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Acknowledging the desire of Christians to remain in the lands they have dwelt in for centuries, Pope Francis says it is good that they should remain, and thanks them for their faith, charity, and hope.

The Pope goes on to recall his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2014, and repeats the words of Saint Paul VI, who warned of the “constant and dire threat” to peace and security, and to human values, of continuing tensions in the Middle East.

Pope Francis highlights the role of Christians in the Middle East in guarding the “places of our salvation,” as well as their “enduring witness, through [their] sufferings, to the mystery of the Lord’s Passion.” “By your ability to rise anew and press forward,” he writes, “you have proclaimed, and continue to proclaim, that the crucified Lord rose from the dead.”

The Pope goes on to share the prayer he offers for and with the Christians of the Holy Land:

Lord, you are our peace (cf. Eph 2:14-22). You who proclaimed blessed the peacemakers (cf. Mt 5:9): set human hearts free from hatred, violence, and the spirit of revenge. We look to Your example and we follow You, Who are merciful, meek, and humble of heart (cf. Mt 11:29).  May no one rob our hearts of the hope of rising anew with You.  May we never tire of defending the dignity of every man, woman, and child, without distinction of religion, ethnicity, or nationality, beginning with the most vulnerable among us: women, the elderly, children, and the poor.

Assuring them once again that they are not alone, the Pope promises that the universal Church will demonstrate solidarity through “prayer and practical charity.”

“Soon we hope to return among you as pilgrims, to draw near to you, to embrace you, to break with you the bread of fraternity, and to contemplate the tender shoots of hope that spring from the seeds you are sowing in pain and nurturing with patience,” he says.

Then, after thanking the “bishops, priests, and religious” for their work among the people, the Holy Father prays that “in the crucible of suffering… the precious gold of unity may be purified and shine forth” among Catholics and with other Christians, to whom he expresses his “spiritual closeness and encouragement” and assuring them of his prayers.

Concluding his letter, Pope Francis invokes upon Catholics in the Holy Land the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “daughter of your Land.”

And he calls on Christians throughout the world “to manifest their concrete support for you and pray tirelessly that all the people of your beloved land may dwell at last in peace.”

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