The Catholic Church in the Holy Land belongs to seven Catholic Patriarchates: Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics or Melkites, Syrian Catholics, Maronites, Armenian Catholics, Chaldean Catholics and Coptic Catholics. The two main groups are the Roman Catholics known in the Holy Land as Latins, and the Greek Catholics.
The Latins are the largest group in the city of Jerusalem, with
around 5,000 members. Short history: The Latin Patriarchal Diocese of Jerusalem,
in its present form, was established in 1099 with the Crusaders. Since
there was no residing Patriarch by the time of their entrance to Jerusalem,
installed a Latin Patriarch to govern the Church. When Saladine took over Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarch had to reside temporarily in Acco until 1291.
After that period the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem remained a titular residing in Europe. Because of these conditions, Pope Clemens VI, in 1342, made the Franciscan Friars, led by a Custos (literally meaning the Guardian), the official custodians of the Holy Places in the Holy Land. For over the next 500 years, the Franciscans were assuring the Latin Church presence in the Holy Land, guarding the Holy Places and looking after the growth of the local Church.
In 1847, Pope Pius IX reestablished the residential Latin Patriarch See in Jerusalem. The first Patriarch to come back was Joseph Valerga, 37 years old, with broad experience of the East, and knowledge of local oriental languages. He had served first in the Apostolic Delegation of Beirut and had made a long visit in Iraq with the Chaldean Church. As Patriarch he was also appointed Apostolic Delegate for the Middle East with residence in Beirut, where he used to spend six months of the year.
The reestablishment of a residential Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem marked the return and the coming of many other religious Orders and Congregations to the Holy Land at the service of the renewed Roman Catholic Latin Diocese.
The main religious Order still remained the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. But thirty one other men and seventy two women religious Congregations are also present now in the Latin Patriarchal Diocese for various ministries, holy Places, welcoming of pilgrims, biblical studies, pastoral and social work.
The Latin Patriarchal Diocese covers today all of Israel, Palestine,
Jordan and Cyprus. It is administered by a local Hierarchy. The present
Latin Patriarch, the eighth in line, H.B. Michel Sabbah, from Nazareth,
assisted by his Vicars: Bishop Kamal-Hanna Bathish in Jerusalem, Bishop
Selim Sayegh in Amman for Jordan, Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo in Nazareth
Rev. Fr. Umberto Barato, o.f.m., in Nicosia for Cyprus and Rt. Rev. Fr. Jean-Baptiste Gourion, o.s.b., Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of the Resurrection in Abu-Gosh as Vicar General for the small Hebrew speaking Community in the Holy Land.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is the president of the “Assembly of
the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land” (A.O.C.T.S.) that includes all
the bishops and heads of the various Catholic Churches in the Holy Land.
He is President also of the “Conference of the Latin Bishops in the Arab
Regions” (C.E.L.R.A.). At the same time he is a member of the Assembly
of the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East and, as a former President,
is an honorary President of the Middle East Council of
Churches. On July 1999, he was elected as Internationl President for the peace movement “Pax Christi International”.
Latin-rite Catholics are, like other Christians of the Holy Land, generally
local Arabs, Palestinians and Jordanians, living in the midst of the two
major religions: Judaism in Israel and Islam in Palestine and Jordan. There
are also many foreign communities composed of immigrant workers: Filipinos,
Rumanians, Africans etc…Some of them have regular national chaplains for their religious service: German, French, Polish and Rumanian. Several hundreds of Hebrew-speaking Catholics are also part of the Catholic Latin Church cared for by the “Saint James Community” under the jurisdiction of the Latin Patriarch, with Hebrew speaking priests and Liturgy. Administration: The administration of the Church is insured through the ordinary and normal organs of the Catholic Church: the Chancery, the ecclesiastical Court, the General administration, the Schools department and
other departments and committees covering its pastoral, cultural, social and benevolent services. Clergy and parishes: A Patriarchal Seminary, first institution founded by the returning Patriarch Valerga in 1852, is located in Beit Jala near Jerusalem. It provides the diocese with its local clergy, coming out fromlocal vocations. The Seminary receives students from the medium and secondary school stages and guides them through priestly education and studies during thirteen years. The present number of students is thirty in the major and seventy in the minor Seminary. While general education is following the Jordanian and Palestinian program, its Philosophy and Theology
nine years courses are affiliated to the Pontifical University of the Latran in Rome that provides the students with a B.A. certificate in philosophy and theology. Most of the priests graduate later on in Ph.D. in different ecclesiastical studies at Rome Universities. Diocesan priests are today 85,
mostly local with few international priests.
The clergy is attending the pastoral work in the parishes and the administrative
one in the Patriarchate curia and in the Seminary. Sixty parishes distributed
in towns and small villages all over the diocese are engaged in the pastoral
care of the faithful. Ten parishes, usually connected with the Holy Places,
are entrusted to the Franciscan Fathers’ care and one to the Carmelite
Fathers, while all the other 49 parishes, with other small related centers,
are under the care of the local diocesan
Holy Places: An important and typical task in the Holy Land religious
and pastoral work is in taking care of the maintenance, the liturgical
and pastoral care of the many Christian Holy Places distributed all over
the country. These are the focus of interest for the local Christian Community
and for the hundreds of thousands of pilgrim visiting every year from all over the world. The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land is the main guardian of the Holy Places, under both, exclusive or joint administration with other Christian Churches. But several other religious Congregations are also involved in this service, such as the Carmelite Fathers (Mount Carmel,Haifa), the Assumptionists (St Peter in Gallicantu, Jerusalem), the Benedictines (Aya Sion on Mount Zion = Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem and the Multiplication of the loaves in Tabgha), the White Fathers (S. Anne, Jerusalem), the Sisters of N.D. de Zion (Ecce Homo in Jerusalem) and
Religious Congregations: The Holy Land enjoys a strong attraction
to all Christians over the world but particularly to the religious Congregations.
Therefore a local religious Congregation for women was founded in Jerusalem,
about the end of the last century, by Mother Marie Alphonsine from Jerusalem
and Fr. Yousef Tannous from Nazareth, Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate,
assisted by the then Patriarch Vincent Bracco. That is the Congregation of the Rosary Sisters of Jerusalem. It was and is still intended to take care of the educational and pastoral service in the parishes side by side with the diocesan clergy. Other congregations have been invited by the different Latin Patriarchs to come and assure some particular religious assistance: such as education (the De La Salle Brothers, the Sisters of Nazareth and the Sister of Saint Joseph...), social and benevolent service (the Brothers of Saint John, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, Sisters of Mother Teresa...), prayer and religious service within the Church (Carmelite Sisters, Sisters of Saint Dorothy and so on... Many others came later on for other services. Today, there are about 30 congregations of men and about 72 congregations of women working in the diocese. These religious congregations, through their manifold and frontrunner activities and assistance, have been and are still an important element in the Church’s history in the Holy Land for the great services rendered both to the Church and to the society.
Schools and education: one of the major concerns and field of
action of the Catholic Latin Church have been, since the beginning, the
educational activity. With great sacrifices it often started with installing
the first school in the area rather than a church. Little by little other
activities followed. Every parish now has a school, providing teaching
and education for its own community and open to any student from other
Christian and non-Christian communities. Its grade may range from the kindergarten
to the Secondary according to the locality’s importance and needs. The
University”, run by the De La Salle Brothers under the Holy See supervision, is the highest Catholic educational Institution in the Holy Land. Within the school framework, many other related activities are undertaken to help for an integral development of the students personality
such as libraries, sports, clubs, associations for moral and spiritual
progress, exploration walks, courses of home professions for girls and women
The Catholic schools depending on the Roman Catholic Latin diocese of Jerusalem today are a total of 104 from all grades with a sum of 50,390 students. 39 schools are under the direct supervision of the Latin Patriarchate’s General Schools Administration with 18,939 students. The other schools are run by different religious Congregations, such as the Franciscans, the Salesian Fathers (for Professional Schools), the De La Salle Brothers, the Rosary Sisters, the Sisters of Saint Joseph, the Franciscan Sisters, the Carmelite Sisters and others. The Bethlehem University founded twenty six years ago, with the Vatican and the Catholic Church support, receives today in its different faculties 2,073 (65% girls) students, with already a total of about 6,500 graduates.
Special mention and appreciation should be given to the Catholic Biblical
and Archeological Schools that contributed worldwide in a very influential
input in the Holy Lands biblical, archeological and historical studies.
The Biblical and Archeological Schools are represented mostly by the “Ecole
Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem”, run by the Dominican Fathers, the “Studium Biblicum Franciscanum” of the Custody of the Holy Land, the “Pontifical Biblical Institute”, affiliated to the same Institute of Rome and run by the Jesuit Fathers, the Instituto Español Biblico y
Arqueologico “Casa Santiago” of the Spanish Bishops Conference and the “Pontifical Institute of Ratisbonne” for Jewish studies. Many specialised courses are also given in different religious Institutions like the Ecce Homo of the Sisters of Zion.
The main Institutions for Philosophy and Theology are to be considered
the Seminaries. The Latin Patriarchal Seminary created in 1852 by the first
returning Patriarch H.B. Giuseppe Valerga, has worked normally and without
interruption up to these days preparing the members of the diocesan Clergy
with an average of two to three new priests per year. The other seminaries
existing in the diocese are the international Franciscan “Studium Theologicum
Hierosolymitanum”, the international “Studentato Theologico Salesiano”
of the Salesian Fathers in Cremisan and the Benedictine
“Theologisches Studienjahr” in Beit Joseph on Mount Zion.
A special mention should be reserved to two more particular Institutes:
The “Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Research” founded according
to Pope’s Paul VI decision after his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1964 and
the “Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center” both under the Apostolic Delegate
for Jerusalem. The first helps in promoting research for Christian unity
dialogue between religions and the second for religious, cultural and educational activities together with pilgrims reception and services.
Health and social services: Already during the nineteenth century
religious institutions have opened hospitals and clinics to insure health
services to the local inhabitants of the Country and to the pilgrims. The
institutions depending on the Latin Patriarchate provide such services
in 10 hospitals trying to readapt to the often changing circumstances of
the area. But, at the same time, many other institutions have always opened
small clinics (dispensaires) in different centers of the Country for local
inhabitants, when no other health service were available. Many of them
operating even in hard conditions.
Beside the health services the Church has also been engaged in social
services, whether on temporary basis, such as during the world wars and
the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967, or even in normal times. Services
for refugees and for needy people found in the Church the first Institution
to provide the necessary essential care. The Pontifical Mission for Palestine
(1948), the Catholic Relief Services (CRS = the Caritas of the American
Bishops’ Conference), the Caritas-Jerusalem (1967) and the Caritas-Jordan
(1968) are the best witnesses for this relief activity still fully operating
in Jerusalem and in Amman, but they were also seconded by many local and private initiatives.
In normal times, the Church looked after small deprived children through 15 orphanages known today as internal schools for needy and special family cases children. The retarded and handicapped children’s house in Ain Karem and in Haifa run by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul is a very eloquent example for such institutions. The same care is given also to old people. 7 Old people homes are run by Church Institutions in different parts of the diocese. The Church takes care also of the poor people. The first Conference of Saint Vincent de Paul has been founded in Jerusalem during the lifetime of its founder Frédéric Ozanam. Many other societies, such as the parochial Antonian societies..., are giving the same services.
The Saint Yves Society is involved in defending the legitimate rights of the weak and defenseless people. Pilgrims arrangements: many religious institutions all over the Country have in their premises arrangements and facilities to receive pilgrims and help them during their visit to the Holy Land. The Church has, since centuries, always kept the tradition of such service, because of its importance in providing pilgrims with the atmosphere of prayer and religion for a better spiritual benefit of the visit to the Holy Land and its Holy Places.
A look forward: The Church of Jerusalem originated from the Apostles and First Christian Community and lived its past through the different conditions of history on this Land. Now, revising her life in the past, she is looking forward to the future. Two main events are accompanying and guiding her in this operation:
1- The diocesan Synod: five years ago the Roman Catholic Latin Church, together with the other five Oriental rite Catholic Churches in the Holy Land, started its revision and examination of conscience through a diocesan Synod. She should try to discover her weaknesses and strength in her march after Christ so as to be able to draw a renewed plan of pastoral action to remain faithful to her Lord Jesus Christ and to her origins. At the same time she will try to provide a better and readapted pastoral service up to the expectations of her faithful in the third millennium. It is expected to have the Synod closed during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 with the proclamation of the new Pastoral Plan.
2- The Great Jubilee: the second important event facing the Church in
these days is the preparation and the celebration of the Great Jubilee.
Life has never been easy for the Church in the Holy Land. The coming of
the Year 2000 with the accompanying Great Jubilee proclaimed by the Holy
Father Pope John Paul II has pointed out to the Holy Land as one of the
main two centers for
celebration. The incarnation and nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ celebrated by this anniversary took place on this land. Therefore it has become more than ever the focus of attention and respect of the whole world.
The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land created for
this purpose the “Great Jubilee Office” located in the Notre Dame Center
in Jerusalem. It deals, with the assistance of the “Christian Information
Center” of the Custody of the Holy Land, with coordinating the activities
and the celebration of this event in the Holy Land.
But the Catholic Church is so happy to see that all Churches in the Holy Land are concerned with the right preparation and celebration of such an important event in the life of the Church and of the whole world. It is good to see the Heads of the Christian Churches meeting from time to time to consult about how the Church of Jerusalem and of the Land of Jesus should proclaim to the world, with “one heart and one spirit”, a common witness of their love and fidelity to the Divine Master.
This is how the Church of Jerusalem realizes what the Holy Father says
in his Apostolic Letter, “Tertio millennio adveniente”. “One thing is certain:
everyone is asked to do as much as possible to ensure that the great challenge
of the Year 2000 is not overlooked for this challenge certainly
involves a special grace of the Lord for the Church and for all of humanity”
May we be ready, all on this Holy Land, Christians, Moslems and Jews,
to cross the threshold of the new millennium with the great hope of being
introduced to the “new springtime for the Church and for all of humanity”!