In the last 60 years the Christian population in Betlehem and surrounding villages dropped from 86% to 12% due to the various challenges it faces.
This week, these and other Christians in the Holy Land will be encouraged to hold on to their faith by the Holy Land Coordination Group which is making its annual visit in solidarity with Christians in Palestine and Israel.
The theme of this year’s visit highlights the challenges and opportunies Christians in Isarel are facing. The visit, which is now in its 20th year is meant to show these people that they are not alone an are not forgotten.
The group which is led by Bishop Declan Lang will be taking part in inter-faith meetings, have appointments with a number of prominent politicians and will also visit Christian schools and hospitals.
Bishop Lang think that throughout the years there have been changes in the region both positive and negative. The work that’s being done by people in education and healthcare continues to be a very impressive sign of hope.
The disappointment is the political deadlock and there’s still a great deal of mistrust between the different communities particularly between the Arab community and the Jewish community”.
“Vatican News” reported Bishop Lang saying that the co-ordination group has become more aware of the outlook of the Arab Christian community who want to play a part in the development of the country, but “feel prevented, as other groups do, particularly by the Nation State Bill that has been through the Israeli Parliament which implies that they are second rate citizens, and this they find very difficult.
Over the years projects and initiatives have been promoted that encourage dialogue between communities which is still taking place mainly amongst small groups. “I think it’s got a firm foundation, but it’s still being done by groups that are quite small in number; it needs to expand”, said Bishop Lang.
The Holy Land Coordination Group believes that the Christian community they encountered this year was a very varied community. In Galilee where the Group haven’t been for quite a few years, the Christian community is a more prosperous community than it is elsewhere, but they do have this fear that they’re not regarded as people of this own country; that it’s not their country.
Bishop Lang told “Vatican News” that these visits to the Holy Land are about hope and standing in solidarity with Christian brothers and sisters so that, “when we return to our own countries, we are able to share with our people the situation of the Christians here in the Holy Land and to say to the people of this land you are not forgotten, because sometimes they do feel forgotten.”