St. Francis Str. 1
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The Franciscans in the Holy Land believe that by building homes for the local arab Christians they will stem the exodus of families and especially young people who are trying to find a job and set up a family.
For the benefit of Christians, Franciscans currently have 392 dwellings in the Old City of Jerusalem, 357 of which are their property, and 35 of which are rented, with a total of 392 families.
In Beit Hanina, north of Jerusalem, the Franciscans have constructed 42 apartments for Christian families. In Bethany, the village of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, 12 families live in as many recently built flats. In Er-Ram, between Beit Hanina and Ramallah, 18 families live in as many homes built by the Franciscans. To encourage the faithful to stay put in the Holy Land, the Franciscan Custody has now launched another program to build 70 homes for Christian families. The area chosen for construction is Bethphage, next to the Franciscan shrine that commemorates the place where Jesus began his triumphal entry to Jerusalem. Every year, the Palm Sunday procession starts here.
Since the outbreak of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, two years ago, about 1,000 Christians, the majority young people, have left the nearby Bethlehem area in search of a better future.
The Franciscans' project to build housing, aimed at keeping Christians here, is as difficult as it is ambitious.
It took 15 years to obtain a building permit. Even now, the project is stalled because of a lack of funds and because the Israeli government is refusing the necessary permits for Arab workers to report to their jobs.
The St. Francis Village project, as it is called, is estimated to cost $10 million, and is in its first stages of construction.
It is important to explain that in the Holy Land, Muslims have financial support from other Muslims in the world, and that U.S. help to Israel is evident, but very few help the Christians, and the Catholic Church is one of them, represented as it is by the Franciscans who have been the guardians of the Holy Places for centuries. In fact, at the end of the 19th century, Christians constituted 25% of the Holy Land's population. Today they are barely 2.5%. This means that in practice the Holy Land can become a lifeless, stone museum for Christians.
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