Christian exodus shadows papal visit to Holy Land

2014-05-21 11:46
(Picture: AP)

(Picture: AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

  • Pope Francis
    Read up on Pope Francis in the biography that paints a peceptive portrait of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Now R227.00
    buy now
Bethlehem - Pope Francis will arrive this weekend in the land where Christianity was born - and where Christians are disappearing.

This ancient community has dwindled to around 2% of the region's population as economic hardship, violence and the bitter realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have sent Christians searching for better opportunities overseas.

The Christian exodus, underway for decades, has reached critical levels in recent years. Emigration is a central concern to local Vatican officials, who are trying to stave off the flight with offers of jobs, housing and scholarships.

"I am sad to think that maybe the time will come in which Christianity will disappear from this land," said the Reverent Juan Solana, a Vatican envoy who oversees the Notre Dame centre, a Jerusalem hotel for pilgrims that employs 150 locals, mostly Christians.

Solana said he employs Christians to encourage them "to stay here, to love this land, to be aware of their particular vocation to be the witnesses of Christianity in this land".

The Christian exodus is taking place across the Middle East. Jordan, where Pope Francis will begin his three-day trip on Saturday, has thousands of Christian refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq.

Christian emigration

For the Church, the phenomenon is particularly heartbreaking in the cradle of Christianity. According to Christian tradition, Jesus was born in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, spent much of his life in Nazareth and the northern Galilee region of Israel, and was crucified and resurrected in Jerusalem.

Pope Francis said in a November speech that "we will not be resigned to think about the Middle East without Christians," lamenting that they "suffer particularly from the consequences of the tensions and conflicts underway" across the region.

Christians in the Holy Land have dwindled from over 10% of the population on the eve of Israel's founding to between 2 and 3% today, according to the local Roman Catholic church.

The decline began with high Jewish immigration and Christian emigration after the 1948 war surrounding Israel's establishment, and has been abetted by continued emigration and a low birth-rate among Christians who stay.

Israeli restrictions in the occupied West Bank have also persuaded Christians to leave.

The concrete and fence barrier Israel built to keep out Palestinian attackers has choked cities like Bethlehem and separated Palestinians from their farmlands. Many Palestinian Christians are prohibited from entering Jerusalem except during holidays.

Israeli-Palestinian violence has also pushed people to leave, and instances of Islamic extremism, particularly in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, have made some Christians feel unwelcome in some cases, though relations between Palestinian Christians and Muslims are generally friendly.

2000 in Gaza

West Bank Christians are preparing to share some of these grievances with Pope Francis, and artisans are fashioning a cross with cement pieces of Israel's barrier for the Palestinian president to give the pope.

Elias Abumohor, a 44-year-old environmental engineer whose family was chosen to have an audience with Francis, says he will tell the pope about his lands in an area partly owned by the Vatican where Israel is planning to route its barrier.

An estimated 80% of Christian Palestinians live abroad, says the local Roman Catholic church, where they have had particular success in replanting themselves in Latin America, the United States and Europe.

About 38 000 Palestinian Christians live in the West Bank, 2 000 in Gaza, and 10 000 in Jerusalem, according to the local Roman Catholic church.

Israel has 130 000 Arab Christians. There are also nearly 200 000 non-native Christians in Israel, including Christians who moved from the former Soviet Union because of Jewish family ties, guest workers and African migrants.

‘Jesus Christ in his land’

The Reverent Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the custodian of the Roman Catholic Church's Holy Land properties, said the native Christians who have left are middle-class and well-educated, some of the most vital members of the community.

The Custodian of the Holy Land is one of the top property owners in the region. Its schools, guest houses and other institutions employ about 1 000 people, about 90% of them local Christians, Pizzaballa said.

The church also offers 350 scholarships a year for Christians, mostly university students, reserving two-thirds for those who commit to staying in the Holy Land, he said.

In recent decades, the Church has built 60 apartments in the West Bank city of Ramallah and rented them to Christians at a discounted rate, said the Reverent Raed Abusahlia, Ramallah's parish priest.

Last year, the Church bought land to build 72 new apartments for Christians in an Arab neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and there are similar projects in Bethlehem and in the village of Birzeit, he said.

Properties abandoned by Christian émigrés over the years have become a battleground for local priests seeking to keep a Christian presence in the Holy Land.

In the West Bank, many Christians left without selling their homes and land, hoping they might one day return. In some cases, squatters - Muslims and Christians - have occupied these homes and asserted ownership of lands, said the Reverent Ibrahim Shomali, the parish priest of Bethlehem's sister city, Beit Jala.

Maha Abu Dayyeh, a Palestinian Christian, said she came back from visiting her daughter in Sweden last year to find a Muslim family had taken over her mother's old house and thrown out the furniture. She said men threatened her son if she did anything to fight it.

"It will cost us only one bullet," she said they told her son. She indicated the squatters' motives were more criminal than religious.

Shomali said he is helping Christians like Abu Dayyeh fight for their property in court. He has also recruited local Christians to purchase a half dozen abandoned homes to keep them in Christian hands.

"As a Christian community, it's important to witness Jesus Christ in his land," Shomali said. "If we keep the houses, you keep the Christians here."
- AP

Read more on:    pope francis  |  palestine  |  israel  |  middle east peace  |  religion
NEXT ON NEWS24X

SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
3 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Friday Cape Town - 07:08 AM
    Road name: N2 Inbound
    DELAYS between the R300 Highway and the Satellite Station
  • Friday Cape Town - 07:06 AM
    Road name: N1 Inbound
    HEAVY DELAYS between Jip De Jager Drive and the M5 Koeberg Interchange
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

CHARTERED ACCOUNTANTS

Western Cape
Tower Group (PTY) Ltd
R420 000 - R500 000 Per Year

Call Centre Manager

Cape Town
Purple Door Recruitment (Pty) Ltd
R7 500 - R9 500 Per Month

Showroom Manager

De Waterkant
Spitfire Furniture
R10 000 - R15 000 Per Month

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2 TV Series for R250

Get 2 TV Series box sets for R250 and save up to R148! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Pre-order the Xbox One

Get this all-in-one entertainment system with live TV, movies, social networking and gaming. Pre-order now!

Up to 50% off hair care products!

Save up to 50% on professional hair care products at kalahari.com. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off academic books

Score a mind blowing 30% off academic books! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on electronics!

Save up to 35% on electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

BlackBerry Curve 8520

Wi-Fi enabled With the BlackBerry Curve 8520 connect to your home...

From R1100.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be putting too much effort into someone or something. You are doing it out of love and compassion but there is a chance...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.