The most senior Catholic leader in the Middle East has said that the future of the Church in the Holy Land is now in doubt – unless fellow Christians around the world step up efforts to help them.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Patriarch Fouad Twal stressed that emigration had drastically reduced the numbers of Christians in both Israel and Palestine. The Patriarch said that the faithful in Jerusalem were expected to fall from 10,000 today to little more than 5,000 in 2016. He also said that in the Holy Land as a whole, Christians had declined from 10 percent to two percent within 60 years – although other evidence shows the decline to be even more severe.
Stressing that until now the Pope’s May pilgrimage to the Holy Land had brought no respite to the oppression of minorities, the Patriarch said that “ongoing discrimination within Israel threatens Christians and Muslims alike.” He continued, “From limiting movement and ignoring housing needs to taxation burdens and infringing on residency rights, Palestinian Christians do not know where to turn.”
He spoke out in particular against the wall erected by Israel around the West Bank. Patriarch Twal said that as well as hampering freedom of movement the wall “has enclosed many Palestinians in ghetto-like areas where access to work, medical care, schooling and other basic services have been badly affected.” He went on: “We have a new generation of Christians who cannot visit the Holy Places of their faith that are only a few kilometers from their place of residence.”
Patriarch Twal paid tribute to the work of ACN, which is supporting seminarians and religious Sisters in Bethlehem, families who make olive wood devotional items and initiatives promoting inter-faith cooperation. He said, “I would like to thank Aid to the Church in Need. We count on your love and your support. Without you, what is our future?”
The patriarch stressed the importance of five ‘P’s – prayer, pilgrimage, pressure (lobbying and other political activism), projects – all leading towards peace.
Speaking of the need to achieve a lasting settlement in the region, Patriarch Twal said, “If in 61 years we have not been able to find peace, this means that the methods we used were the wrong ones.”
He added, “It seems that politicians are more afraid of peace than of war and they prefer to manage the conflict rather than solve it.”