Will Christians soondisappear from the Holy Land?

By Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarchof Jerusalem

All Christians in the Middle East are facing the same problems:

a. a small number related to a majority

b. coexistence with Islam, and in Israel/Palestine, coexistence withIslam and Judaism

c. political instability

d. and finally emigration.

These common realities are the subject of reflection for the tworegional Church structures. The firstis the Council of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East (seven Patriarchs,Alexandria for the Copts, Antioch for the Syrians, the Maronites and theMelkites, Jerusalem for the Latins, Babylon for the Chaldeans and Ciliciafor the Armenians). The second structure isthe Middle East Council of Churches, composed of four families of Churches:the Greek Orthodox (Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem), the Eastern Orthodox(Copts of Alexandria, Syrians of Antioch and Armenians of Cilicia), theCatholic and the Protestants.

The same probems are lived by the Church of Jerusalem.

We are a small number in all the dioceses of the Holy Land. By thisterm (Holy Land), I mean Israel, Palestine and Jordan: all these countriesconstitute one diocese and one ecclesiastical jurisdictionfor Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics. In these territories thetotal population is around 12 million. The Christians, all Christians,are 300,000. Catholics are almost half thisfigure. The Orthodox are a little more numerous.

Is this small number diminishing due to the emigration? Is there reallya danger that Holy Places will become museums,or Churches alive only with the presence of pilgrims?

Emigration started during the last century. Today, the Arab PalestinianChristians in Latin America, who emigrated there in the 19th century, arefar more numerous than in their original land.

The same is true also regarding Christians in North America, UnitedStates and Canada. The same reasons leading to emigration are still there:economical, social, and the difficulty of adaptation as a minority towardsa majorty.

Since the second half of this century, with the eruption of the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, the political conflictual situation, causinggeneral instability, and which is still going on, emigrationbecame more intensive.

It is said sometimes that Christians have grown in Israel. Numericalgrowth is very limited and relative. In Nazareth,in 1948, Christians were 6,000 out of 8,000. Today they are 25,000 outof 50,000. The numerical growth is not only due to natality, but due toother villages whose population was forced to leave and then settled inNazareth.

Bethlehem had the same figure, 6000 Christiansout of 8,000. Today, it has 12,000 but out of 50,000. Ramallahanother small Christian city had in 1948 around 6000 inhabitants, all Christians,today it could have 10,000 but out of 40,000.

Jerusalem had the biggest number, 30,000out of 200,000. Today it has 10,000 out of 600,000.As long as there will be political instability, emigration will continue.

But with that, Christians will not disappear. They will remain small.They will require more work on the part of the Church. They will remainmore dependent on the Church as institution; and this will perpetuate thestatus of the Church leaders regarding religious and civil questions, atthe same time.

It was so, in deed, during the Ottoman empire, until the nineteenthcentury. The Patriarch was at that time the religious and civil head forhis community. This fact gave birth to the present vision of the lay people:the Church should build the Church and the society together; and it explainsalso a contradictory position in the attitude of the lay people towardsthe Church: on one side they want to have their role in the Church; onthe other side they want the Church to assume responsibilities in differentdomains of the civil, economical, social and political life.