Crucifix inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. / Lauren Cater/CNA.

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2022 / 11:30 am (CNA).

A Vatican cardinal has urged Catholics to give with “new vigor” to this year’s Good Friday collection for Christians in the Holy Land.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri made the appeal in a letter released on March 24, following a drop in donations in 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For two consecutive years, the Christians of the Holy Land have celebrated Easter and Christmas in a sort of isolation, without the warmth and solidarity of pilgrims visiting the Holy Places and local communities,” the prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches wrote.

“Families have suffered beyond measure, more from the lack of work than from the immediate effects of the pandemic itself.”

Sandri said that even a small offering would be like “the widow’s mite” that helps “our brothers and sisters to continue to live, to hope and to offer a living witness to the Word made flesh in places and on the streets that saw his presence.”

This year’s Good Friday collection will be taken worldwide on April 15. U.S. Catholics can donate to the collection online as well as at churches.

The Holy See has overseen the annual Holy Land collection since 1974, when St. Paul VI established Good Friday as the day for it to be taken up by parishes and bishops around the world.

The collection is traditionally split, with 65% going to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which has maintained the Holy Places of Christianity in the region for more than 800 years.

The remaining 35% is given to the Congregation for the Eastern Churches to support seminarians and priests, as well as educational and cultural activities.

The territories that benefit from the collection, called the Pro Terra Sancta collection, include Jerusalem, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.

Alongside the letter, the Vatican issued a detailed breakdown of how the proceeds of the annual collection helped Holy Land Christians in 2021.

The Congregation for the Eastern Churches received $6 million from the Holy Land collection in 2021, about $3.7 million less than in the 2020 collection.

The funds helped educational institutions such as the Pontifical Oriental Institute and Bethlehem University, which has almost 3,300 students, as well as the schools of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Around $2.4 million went on extraordinary aid to countries such as Syria, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Lebanon.

“The Middle East continues to live in instability and tension. There are people who have no food, others who lack medical treatment, children and youth without schools, and then those orphaned, wounded, and widowed by war,” the report said.

“The Congregation pays particular attention to the needs of these people and works to rebuild social structures through the local Eastern and Latin dioceses, as well as by soliciting the Catholic agencies involved in the aforementioned countries.”

“Ensuring the means necessary for a dignified life for those returning to Iraq and Syria and for refugees in neighboring countries, such as Lebanon and Jordan, requires the collaboration of all people of goodwill.”

In a report on its activities in 2021, the Custody of the Holy Land noted the strain on its finances.

It said: “Ever since the end of February 2020 we have found ourselves without pilgrims, and this means serious economic difficulties for the local Christian communities, for the Christian families, and also for the Custody.”

“In the meantime, we are trying to continue the mission that has been entrusted to us, knowing that Divine Providence which has willed our presence here will continue to take care of us.”

Cardinal Sandri noted that Pope Francis had invited Catholics to live in greater solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the Middle East during his visit to Iraq last year.

“Looking therefore at Christ who touched our human reality to its depths, letting ourselves be inspired by the gestures of closeness made by Pope Francis in his apostolic journeys and accepting his invitation to live solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the Holy Land, let us give new vigor to the practice of the Collection for the Holy Land,” the 78-year-old Argentine cardinal said.

“In Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and in many other shrines and monasteries, prayer is offered for the Church all over the world, and we are invited to remember with the heart and with a small gift all those who pronounce our name before the Lord, giving thanks for our generosity,” he said.