The ICoHS February Newsletter

”Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” 

Romans 12:12

There is lots of good news to share this month, but unfortunately also some bad news…
The bad news is that there was again an attack on a church in the Holy Land.  Last December the church in Getsemane suffered an attack, early February the Romanian Orthodox Church in Musrara was vandalized by Israeli radicals.  Video footage shows the assailants attempting to gain entry by smashing a lock to the front gate of the church and destroying its CCTV cameras.  His Beatitude, Theophilus III, Patriarch of Jerusalem described it as an event “that reflects the extent of the Israeli extremists’ hatred for the Christian religion in general, and the Orthodox Church in particular”.  It is important that the Christian community comes together to present a unified voice in condemning such actions
More bad news is that the measures combatting Covid19 are affecting the Christian community in the Holy Land.  The lack of income and social security leave many families in dire conditions. 

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), of which ICoHS holds the secretariat, invited church leaders in Jerusalem on February 25 to inform Parliamentarians in the UK on current issues in the Holy Land.  We offered a platform to engage with one another and ask questions on how the local church is advocating for Christians during this time of pandemic.

The International Community of the Holy Sepulchre started to distribute the funds raised from the Bethlehem Star event among 7 schools, 2 institutions and 3 different projects from different local churches (Latin, Orthodox, Lutheran and Syriac) in the Bethlehem area to support with tuition fees, medical needs and food packages.  Local volunteers helped with the distribution under the supervision of Father Ibrahim Faltas of the Custody of the Holy Land.

More good news is that Georgia Kamberi joined our ICoHS Team in London.  Georgia will be assisting with communications and events.  Eoin O’loghlen will continue to be involved with us through the Good Faith Partnership.

Last time we mentioned our plans for a meeting in London and Washington DC.  The prolonged (travel) restrictions of the global pandemic forced us to re-evaluate our plans.  ICoHS is now planning to organize high-level meetings in London and Washington DC in September – most probably it will be a hybrid event (small group of people meeting physically and making the event available virtually for a larger group).  We hope to present an interesting report on Christianity in the Holy Land and will share soon more about this exciting opportunity.

This month we also started with our new live-stream series on “Feasts of the Holy Land”.  If you missed the live-stream on February 16 – please watch the YouTube video below:

As we prepare for (Latin) Easter, we are creating a special “Holy Land Pilgrimage” which will be available daily on our website and on Premier TV during Holy Week as part of our series “Feasts of the Holy Land”. We invite you to share this virtual pilgrimage with your church community, family or friends.

Thank you for your continued support and prayers.  If you are not yet an ICoHS-founding member, please visit our website at and sign up as founding member allowing us to continue to bring the Holy Land “closer to home” and encouraging the Christians in the region.

Anita Delhaas- van Dijk
Chief Executive

Hearing on Christianity in the Holy Land

The APPG welcomed four senior church leaders from Jerusalem to a virtual hearing on Christianity in the Holy Land on 25 February. It was the first ever joint appearance by the Orthodox and Latin Patriarchs of Jerusalem at a UK event, and they were joined by Archbishop-elect Hosam Naoum of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, and Pastor Carrie Ballenger of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby formally welcomed the guest clergy to parliament, to answer members’ questions about the status of Christianity in the Holy Land. The challenges brought about by the pandemic featured heavily, and the panel described the ever-growing hardship that Christian families and churches are facing through unemployment, uncertainty, and a lack of government support.  

Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III outlined the pressures on churches and their communities. With many families relying on welfare services provided by the church, the Patriarch said “church funds are inundated with requests while no school fees or rents are coming in.” Despite churches all taking measures to reduce costs, the reduction in their income coupled with increased pastoral demands is putting huge strains on their finances. 

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa said “the pandemic has completely shaken the Latin Church. Even through the intifada the churches were open, but now they are closed.” He cautioned that the worst effects of the pandemic were still to come saying “2021 will be even harder for Christian families, as savings will have dried up.” The economic crisis facing families is going to place a long-term strain on the churches and Christian social institutions which provide the health, education and welfare services upon which many depend.

Aside from the pandemic, MPs and peers asked about other pressures on the Christian community. Pastor Ballenger warned that “the Holy Land is seeing the long-term emigration of its Christians because of the intolerable conditions they face.” In addition to the economic situation, the issue of the permit regime was cited as an example; this prevents a Christian in Israel from living with a Palestinian Christian spouse as they are invariably denied the relevant permit. It creates huge strains on family life and mental health and has the effect of requiring Christians in Israel to leave the country if they want to live with their Palestinian spouse.

The panel was also asked about an alarming spate of attacks on Christian holy sites and places of worship. While the police often dismiss these hate crimes as the actions of petty criminals, their links to known radical groups which seek to drive Christians from the Holy Land is rarely acknowledged. Church leaders stressed that these radical groups do not reflect wider societal attitudes towards Christians, but the unchecked campaign of attacks creates an impression that Christians are not being adequately protected by the police or criminal justice system. 

Asked about the Middle East peace process, the unanimous response was that religious communities should be consulted and included, especially where Jerusalem is involved. Patriarch Theophilos said “where conflicts are so entwined with religion, and where religion is often said to be part of the problem, it is important that religious communities are listened to so that they can be part of the solution. Our churches strive to be bridge builders and peacemakers. To this end, we are determined to make our contribution with our friends in Israel and Palestine, with people of all faiths and with parliaments around the world to foster peace and reconciliation in our time.”

The rare joint appearance by these Jerusalem Heads and representatives of Churches demonstrated one very positive aspect of Christianity in the Holy Land today. Unity amongst the Jerusalem churches is at a high-point. Archbishop-elect Naoum, who in May will become the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, serves as Secretary to the Council of Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in the Holy Land. Speaking about the role of the council he said, “the voice of moderation and reconciliation is very strong within our narrative.” It is this unity which is enabling the churches to now speak as one about the current challenges facing Christians in the Holy Land. 

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Christian leaders condemn latest attack on Jerusalem’s Romanian Church

Christian leaders have condemned the latest attack on a church in Jerusalem.  For the fourth time in a month, Israeli radicals have attacked the Romanian Orthodox Church in the city’s Musrara neighbourhood. On Monday, March 1st, the assailants set fire to the entrance of the church which was quickly extinguished by the Priest in charge.

The Council of Catholic Churches issued a statement of solidarity with the Romanian Church saying “We unite with the Orthodox Churches and all other churches in Jerusalem and strongly condemn such acts of sabotage that not only harm the lives of Christians, but also harm many of those who still believe in dialogue and mutual respect.” These actions contradict the spirit of peaceful coexistence between the plurality of religious communities in the city. The statement added, “All political and religious authorities in the city must unite in condemning these actions, which have been repeated in recent months in Jerusalem.” They demanded the Israeli authorities to seriously investigate these incidents and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The attack is an example of the hostility Christians face in the birthplace of their faith. Two weeks earlier a similar incident occurred when radicals destroyed the CCTV cameras of the Romanian Church and attempted to set the door on fire. Speaking at the time, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, described it as an event “that reflects the extent of the Israeli extremists’ hatred for the Christian religion in general, and the Orthodox Church in particular.” In response to the outcry the United Nations Alliance for Civilizations released a statement condemning such acts of intolerance and called for “mutual respect of all religions and faiths and for fostering a culture of fraternity and peace.”

Commenting on the most recent attack ICoHS CEO, Anita Delhaas, has said “such attacks reveal the level of intolerance many Christians endure, but also the solidarity shared by the different denominations in the faith.” The attack took place just days after a group of senior church leaders in Jerusalem appeared before the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Christianity in the Holy Land. Members of the APPG, which include the Archbishop of Canterbury and politicians from four parties, quizzed the church leaders about the repeated attacks and the failure of local authorities to take meaningful action against the radical groups behind them.

The ICoHS January Newsletter

“By the power of the Holy Spirit may you abound in hope” 
Romans 15:13

Much of the pessimism which blighted 2020 has continued into the beginning of 2021.  In spite of our continued lock downs in different parts of the world, including the Holy Land, we must not forget the intolerable plight of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, especially at the end of the Christmas period which is often a time of great joy and energy in the birthplace of Jesus.

Without the custom of pilgrims and little government support, Christian businesses have struggled to remain open.  This has exasperated the divisions in the area and continues to cast doubt over the future of Christians in the Holy Land.  In response to this, ICoHS has directed $30,000 raised through your generosity in the Bethlehem Star event to assist struggling Christian families, helping them with school tuition and medical needs.

We are excited to share our plans for the coming year which has not been deferred by the pandemic. We will be holding our Summit this September in Westminster Abbey, bringing together leading voices on Christians in the Holy Land. This will be followed by a similar event in Washington DC in the United States of America.

As the only organisation to receive a mandate from all 13 churches in Jerusalem, we are pleased to announce the start of our “Feasts of the Holy Land” series. We will start with the Feast of St. Simeon with a live-stream on February 16, the day before Latin Ash Wednesday leading into lent and Holy Week.

This series aims to bring Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant communities together to celebrate these ancient traditions that are often less popular in modern times.

Looking forward to virtually meet you during our live-stream on February 16, in which we will share interesting facts about Saint Simeon, give you an opportunity to meet clergy from the Holy Land, roam the streets of Jerusalem with Bassem (a tour operator) and visit the Monastery of Saint Simeon in the Qatamon area.

Anita Delhaas- van Dijk

Chief Executive

The Ongoing Plight of Jerusalem’s Christians

The ongoing plight of Jerusalem’s Christians is receiving renewed attention in the media. This article, published by the American Conservative, links the recent arson attack at the Garden of Gethsemane to a concerted campaign by radical groups to drive Christians from the Holy Land. A spate of similar attacks over the last decade have resulted in very few convictions, with police reluctant to acknowledge any political or religious motivation behind crimes targeting Christians. At the other end of the wedge are attempts by the same radical groups to fraudulently acquire church property in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem. If these attempts are successful it would fundamentally alter the Christian character of the ancient city, which in turn undermines the continued presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

The ICoHS December Newsletter

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” Isaiah 40:31

Dear Patron,

At the end of 2020 we look back with mixed feelings on the past year. The International Community of the Holy Sepulchre started this year with exciting plans to strengthen churches in the region and support them as they extend their ministries and enrich local communities in the Holy Land.

Due to travel and other Covid19 restrictions, many of our planned activities became virtual. We were happy to connect with many hundreds of people around the global through our digital events.

During these events we felt it important to highlight the impact of the pandemic in the Holy Land.

Covid19 brought life in the Holy Land to a stop. Since no pilgrims can visit the region, many Christians have lost their livelihoods. Thank you for supporting them through ICOHS’s Hope for the Holy Land Campaign around Easter and the virtual Bethlehem Star Event last month through which we were able to raise funding to support the local church and to contribute to the daily needs of many families in the Holy Land.

As our International Community of the Holy Sepulchre grows, we are happy to welcome many members from South America and therefore, this monthly newsletter is now also available in Spanish. We plan to translate our website in Spanish too in the coming months to enlarge our engagement.

Our CEO’s Christmas Address

In 2021 we hope to travel again to the Holy Land. We are making plans to organize an ICoHS Summit in September in the UK, Brussels and US and will inform you accordingly.

While we cannot travel yet, we want to continue sharing information about the realities on the ground for the Christians in this part of the world. We hope to share every month a virtual experience of one of the Feast of the Holy Land to connect our international community with the local churches.

Thank you again for your prayers and support during 2020.

On behalf of ICoHS, I wish you a blessed New Year.

Anita Delhaas- van Dijk

Chief Executive

Attack on Gethsemane Church “seeks to drive Christians from the Holy Land”

The most senior Christian leader in Jerusalem has described Friday’s arson attack on the Church of Gethsemane as “a crime inspired by an extreme ideology that seeks to drive Christians from the Holy Land.”

His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem, condemned the attack carried out by a 49 year old Israeli radical. The man was restrained on site by the Church guard and Muslim and Christian bystanders, before being arrested by Israeli police.

On Friday 4 December the man entered the church at the Garden of Gethsemane on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, and poured a flammable liquid which he set fire to. A Byzantine floor mosaic and wooden pews were damaged in the fire, which was extinguished before causing widespread destruction or injury.

The Custody of the Holy Land is the body responsible for the protection of Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. Fr Ibrahim Faltas from the Custody called the attack “a crime, a crime that shouldn’t happen in a church in the Holy Land.”

Patriarch Theophilos, who has repeatedly called for greater protection for Christian sites in the Holy Land, added “I call on the international community to take its role in protecting Christian shrines, and preserving the indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land.”

Only last week, the Patriarch appeared at online events in Westminster and Washington DC to promote this message. On Thursday 2 December he spoke to a US State Department conference, hosted by US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback. On Monday 30 November, the Patriarch was a guest of honour at the inaugural meeting of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Christianity in the Holy Land in the UK Parliament.

Commenting on the attack on the Gethsemane Church, the Chair of the new APPG, Steve Double MP, said: “This attack at a site of great significance to Christians worldwide reveals the threat that radical groups pose. Incidents like this demonstrate why we have established a new APPG on Christianity in the Holy Land to help ensure it remains a place where Christians can continue to live, flourish and thrive.”

Anita Delhaas, Chief Executive of the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre, an organisation established to support the churches of the Holy Land, said “Christians in the Holy Land face many challenges to preserve their ancient heritage and present livelihoods. More than ever, Holy Land Christians need friends, supporters and advocates in Europe and America to speak up and take action to prevent incidents like this from happening in the first place.”

Condemnation of the attack has also come from the Jewish community. Rabbi David Mason, a trustee of the Council of Christians and Jews, said “We deplore this attack on a Christian Holy Site in Jerusalem. Jewish people around the world stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters wherever they face persecution because of their faith. Attacks like this redouble our efforts to improve relations between faith communities and build societies based on peaceful coexistence.”

For all enquiries contact Will Neal:

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