INTERVIEW – Henrique and Carola Abreu, Knight and Lady of the Holy Sepulcher, served in the Holy Land for three years. In this interview, they both explain the profound motivation behind their mission and the challenges they faced during those years. They also talk about some concrete ways of supporting the local Christian communities.
When and how did you arrive in the Holy Land? Why did you decide to dedicate this time of your life to the local Church?
We arrived in Jerusalem in January of 2014.
Following the visit and spiritual message of the Holy Father given in Brazil in 2013, we both felt inspired by his homily of charity and love. We knew the Holy Land through our previous yearly visits to the Patriarchate and to the Christian communities.
That call marked the time to make the necessary preparations and plan for three sabbatical years to serve as volunteers. We placed our personal and professional experiences in God’s hands and our desire to serve the needs of the Mother Church and the local communities, so He could decide how to best use them for our Church.
What has been your deep motivation during those three years?
Our motivation in life has always been to serve others, in any way we can. In the Holy Land, it was no different. We got up every day with the same energy and joy, to come to the office, to visit the parishes, or to travel to distant villages. Our motivation was driven by the happiness and smiles in the faces of the children, priests or parishioners; when we were able to accomplish something that would benefit and impact the life of their communities.
We worked side by side with an incredible team of professionals at the Patriarchate, who welcomed us as one in the family, and we are very proud to have served with them.
What was the main purpose of your mission?
In the beginning, we lived in the village of Taybeh. There, we were very involved in supporting the parish activities, the school, summer camps, the youth programs, pilgrimage groups and some rehabilitation projects for the parish. Carola was more involved in serving at Beit Afram Home for the Elderly with daily needs and care for the residents.
We only realized later, that this period was in fact, a preparation for a much larger mission for the Church. Taybeh was a school for us. To learn how a parish works from the inside, to see first-hand the real needs of our Christians living in Palestine, to listen to their stories, difficulties, struggles and simply to be a part of their lives.
After one year, we moved to Jerusalem and began a new mission. The challenge was to support the General Administrator with restructuring the projects department in the Patriarchate. The Taybeh experience served us well, as now we had to care for 55 parishes spread in the four territories of our Diocese.
My mission was to focus on setting up the department, gathering the right team to support the office, visit all the parishes to understand their needs, and serve as best as I could, our internal and external staff, as well as our benefactors. On the other side, Carola was translating for the media office, supporting our project development work, and helping the chancellery and general administration with administrative matters. We felt that Our Lord was working side by side with us, and we had several tangible signs and affirmations of that during those three years.
Which projects did you consider most challenging?
It is hard to say, this one or that one. All of them were important. Every project was the most important project for every parish, and we tried to make our pastors and communities feel that way.
Perhaps where help was most needed at the time was in Gaza, and with the Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan. At the time of our arrival, these two groups were the most vulnerable: Gaza was at the end of the conflict in 2014, and the Iraq Christian refugees were living in containers or improvised parish halls. We knew that we had to respond to these needs immediately and humanitarian assistance was critical.
How was your mission closely related to your affiliation with the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher?
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem has walked side by side with the Latin Patriarchate, as a lifetime companion and supporter of the Mother Church in the Holy Land.
As members of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, we were clearly aware of our mission and responsibilities towards the Latin Patriarchate and the Christians in the Holy Land. What we did not know, was that our lives would be changed forever.
With this spirit, we came to this Land in search of how we could improve the lives of others, how we could bring comfort and more dignity to those who suffer the most, whether they are Christian refugees in Jordan, a poor family in Gaza, or children with special needs living in one of our homes.
Our faith and belief tell us that love for one another should be the driving force in our common mission, with the Equestrian Order and the Latin Patriarchate. We should provide for others, we should live to serve others and to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
We truly felt that there cannot be a greater honor and privilege for a Knight, than to return to the Holy Land, as our ancestors did, and to bring hope and peace, by serving those in need.
The context in which Christians live in the Holy Land is difficult and often painful. How can we help Christians of the Holy Land in a concrete manner?
Without any doubt, we can say that these were probably the three most intense years of our professional lives. We were able to see the needs and diversity in our Diocese. Each of the four territories covered by the Patriarchate has different needs, according to their geographical and political situations, population and parish infrastructure.
Our Christian faithful and communities, however, share some common needs and perspectives. They desire to live in peace in their lands and with dignity. They have the same needs for spiritual support, access to good education, employment opportunities, housing projects and to establish a family in order to remain in the Holy Land.
These are no different from our own countries, with the basic circle of life: religion/faith/peace/education/job/home/family.
Support for Christians of the Holy Land can be done in several ways, and the most important would be solidarity with them through our prayers. The spiritual connection is essential for the other ways and means to happen.
You can support by visiting the Holy Land and joining a Christian pilgrimage. In this way, by your visit, you can help the living stones with employment opportunities to an entire chain of service suppliers: guides, hotels, drivers, artisans, holy sites, etc.
By voluntary work in serving the communities in the parishes or projects, offering support, love and direct care to our brothers and sisters.
Finally, by supporting the projects offered by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, as they reach out to the communities in several fields: humanitarian assistance, pastoral, social, development, educational, health, job creation and housing for Christian families.
At the conclusion of our mission, we felt that we have received much more than we were able to give. Therefore, we remain united in prayer with our family in the Holy Land, and forever grateful for all the infinite blessings and teachings received from the Land of Jesus.
Henrique Abreu, KHS and Carola Abreu, LHS
Interview by Myriam Ambroselli