The work in Bethlehem has restored Crusader-era mosaics and brought to light some that had been plastered over; the next phase -- again pending ecumenical agreement -- would include work on the church columns, floor mosaics and the grotto, which is marked as the birthplace of Jesus.

Releasing material about the annual Good Friday collection, the Vatican noted that the presence of Christianity in the Holy Land is not limited to historical sites and places of pilgrimage. "A Christian community has remained in the region down through the centuries, even at the cost of great sacrifice and martyrdom."

The collection ensures not only that the buildings remain accessible, but that local Christians are able to stay in their homeland.

Funds gathered support young families, parishes, seminaries, schools, hospitals and clinics, refugees and small businesses.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, which coordinates the collection, also noted that pilgrimages are an essential support for the church in the Holy Land.

"A journey to the sacred places in the footsteps of Christ can not only lead the pilgrim to a revival of his faith and a rediscovery of his origins, but it can also serve as a powerful instrument in the new evangelization," the cardinal said in a statement released March 18 by the Vatican.

Additionally, he said, "pilgrimages are an essential resource for the Christian population of the Holy Land. In fact, according to recent statistics, at least 30 percent of the local community in Jerusalem and in Bethlehem live and work thanks to the presence of pilgrims."

According to Cardinal Sandri's office, the Holy Land Collection in 2015-16 brought in more than $7.2 million. The largest recipient of funds is the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which staffs most of the historic Christians sites in the region, in addition to running parishes, schools and other programs. Money also is given to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Melkite, Coptic, Maronite, Syrian, Chaldean and Armenian Catholic dioceses in the region.