The Holy Land: How to prevent a spiritual Disneyland

A two-day conference on the fate of Christians in the Holy Land took place in London this week.

The conference  cosponsored by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, sought to address the threat that Christianity’s birthplace is now under.

The risk, as the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, has put it, is that the Holy Land is becoming a “spiritual Disneyland” – full of glittering rides and attractions, but empty of its indigenous Christian population.

French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue pointed out the seriousness of the situation by comparing the Christian centers of the Holy Land as archeological and historical sites, to be visited somewhat like the Colosseum in Rome, a museum with entrance tickets, and guides who explain the beautiful legends.

The decline in the Holy Land was seen as part of a broad Christian exodus all across the Middle East and attributed to the:

  • Israeli – Palestinian conflict, which affects Arab Christians just as much as Arab Muslims,
  • economic instability and lack of opportunity
  • rising Islamic fundamentalism,
  • Christians in the area being disproportionately better educated and more affluent, and therefore are more likely to be able to emigrate
Statistics also tell a part of the story. In 1948 Christians represented 30 percent of British Mandate Palestine, whereas today Christians share an estimated 1.25% of Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
“The Middle East frustrated Christians emigrate physically, while frustrated Muslims emigrate ideologically,” said one observer.

The summit offered three main contributions:

  • a rationale as to why the Christian world should care,
  • a survey of open questions, and a
  • set of concrete ideas about how to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

The event,was held at Lambeth Palace and brought together some 90 church leaders, politicians, activists and media to raise what Williams described as a “literate, compassionate awareness” of the Christian plight, and to galvanize action.




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