VATICAN CITY – The annual collection for the Holy Land is Sept. 13, and Franciscan Father Francesco Patton is asking Catholics around the world to make a virtual pilgrimage to the region but a real donation to support its Church.

"Here in Jerusalem, we haven't seen a pilgrim in six months," said Father Patton, custos of the Holy Land. Pilgrimages are a major source of support for the Catholic Church in the region, he added, "but most of all, they are the exclusive source of income for thousands of families, especially Christians [who work in the tourist industry].”

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, an administratively autonomous province of the Franciscan order, uses the collection to carry out its mission of preserving most of the shrines connected with the life of Jesus as well as for providing pastoral care to the region's Catholics, running schools, operating charitable institutions and training future priests and religious.

The collection, taken up at the request of the Pope, is administered by the Franciscan Custody and the Congregation for Eastern Churches, which uses it for the formation of candidates for the priesthood, the support of the clergy, educational activities, cultural formation and subsidies.

The collection is traditionally held on Good Friday, but because of the global COVID-19 lockdown, Pope Francis transferred the date to Sept. 13, the eve of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The new date of the collection, the Vatican press office said, serves as “a sign of rediscovered hope and of salvation after the Passion … as well as solidarity with those who continue to live the Gospel of Jesus in the land where 'it all began.'"

Father Patton agreed, saying he knows Catholics around the world are struggling financially because of the pandemic, but all Christians have a connection to the land where Jesus was born, lived, died and rose from the dead.

Explaining the use of the funds, he said 10 percent of the collection goes to support the Franciscan friars who staff the churches at the sites associated with Jesus' life and death, as well as parishes in Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and Rhodes. The remaining 90 percent goes to pastoral and social activities.

For example, he said that by running schools that accept both Christian and Muslim students and by offering assistance to everyone in need, helping the Church in the Holy Land "means helping a peacemaking operation; it means adding a small, but not insignificant piece, to the process of dialogue and mutual understanding." 

Catholic News Service reporters Cindy Wooden and Junno Arocho Esteves contributed to this report.