Appeal for prayer and solidarity as Coronavirus worsens By John Pontifex AN urgent call for prayer and support for Christians in Bethlehem has come from two charities which are warning that Coronavirus lockdown could plunge the faithful into desperate poverty.
A week after the Palestinian Authority (PA) declared a state of emergency and put Bethlehem in lockdown, all tourists are banned from the West Bank, tourism has ceased, and the Church of the Nativity and other places of worship in Bethlehem remain closed.
With nearly 30 cases of Coronavirus reported, the Israel Defence Forces acting in cooperation with the PA, are enforcing checkpoints to stop people from entering or leaving Bethlehem.
The official 30-day quarantine period for the city could be extended.
Friends of the Holy Land (FHL), which aids projects to sustain the Christian presence in the region, and Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which helps persecuted Christians across the region, are calling for people to pray for Christians in Bethlehem at this time.
FHL Executive Director Brendan Metcalfe said: “While the lockdown precautionary action is understandable and reflects similar situations in other countries, the particular impact on the Bethlehem economy has been disastrous.
“The timing could not be worse especially in the lead up to Holy Week and Easter – one of the key tourism seasons for the city.”
Tourism is Bethlehem’s main industry and is the lifeline of the city’s economy with around two million visitors last year, but now the streets are empty.
Mr Metcalfe said: “Unlike the developed world, employment conditions for most in the city are fragile, hand to mouth, with no safety net of family or social support.
“76 percent of families were assessed as living below the poverty line before this crisis. They are now pushed beyond their means by sudden unemployment.
“The city is widely reported to have become a ghost town because many people are afraid to leave their homes. The people are afraid and beginning to panic.”
Both ACN and FHL are calling for prayer for all those affected by the Coronavirus, especially people in Bethlehem at huge economic risk.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need, said: “We are in solidarity with all who are suffering in prayer.
“Please join us and stand by those ACN helps in the Holy Land – especially the Christian families – and those who are enduring so much throughout the Middle East as they witness to Christ’s love this long Lent.”
Mr Metcalfe said: “Let us also pray for all the people of Bethlehem who have been indirectly affected, those losing their jobs, for the many families who, in an already difficult and precarious situation, are now facing even greater economic and social difficulties.
“During this time of Lent, let us remain united and supportive in prayer above all, and in all possible forms and means of mutual help and support. Please share awareness of their condition and your concerns with your friends, family and parish.”
Friends of the Holy Land is a registered charity in England and Wales (1130054) which operates an office in Bethlehem to support vulnerable Christians. In addition to meeting their direct emergency needs, they have two major projects in Bethlehem, School of Joy providing education and therapy to disabled children and St Martha’s House which is a day centre for elderly women, mainly widows or those whose family have emigrated. These women are in the most vulnerable category for this coronavirus crisis. In addition to providing financial support across the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Jordan, Friends of the Holy seek to raise awareness of the challenges Christians in the Holy Land experience, encourage prayers to be offered on their behalf and encourage visits from the UK to meet local Christians. For more information, visit www.friendsoftheholyland.org.uk or by calling our office on 01926 512980.
Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation directly under the Holy See. As a Catholic charity, ACN supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need through information, prayer, and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in 140 countries throughout the world.
Undertaking thousands of projects every year, the charity provides emergency support for people experiencing persecution, transport for clergy and lay Church workers, Child’s Bibles, media and evangelisation projects, churches, Mass stipends and other support for priests and nuns and training for seminarians.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow and another office based in Lancaster that covers the North-West.
Please always acknowledge Aid to the Church in Need as the source when using our material.
For more information, contact Senior Press Officer John Newton on 020 8661 5167 or ACN Parliamentary and Press Officer Fionn Shiner on 020 8661 5175.