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Jerusalem churches unite to preserve one of the world’s oldest Christian communities

Jerusalem’s religious leaders have launched a campaign against what they say is a ‘systematic attempt’ to expel Christians from the Holy Land

A Christian pilgrim holds candles during the ceremony of the Holy Fire at Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead, in the Old City of Jerusalem, Saturday, May 1, 2021.
Ariel Schalit, Associated Press

With Christmas approaching, Jerusalem’s churches have united around a new campaign to preserve the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

Last week, they launched a website titled “Protecting Holy Land Christians.” Included on the website is the statement that was also published by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, along with other local churches.

Issued by the Council of Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, the “Statement On the Current Threat to the Christian Presence in the Holy Land” says that, since 2012, there have been “countless attacks” on priests, clergy and churches, as well as vandalism and desecration of holy sites. It also says that local Christians who are attempting to worship and go about their daily lives face “ongoing intimidation.”

“These tactics are being used by … radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land,” the statement argues.

While acknowledging the Israeli government’s commitment to the country’s Christian community, the authors of the statement fault “local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies” for failing to “curb the activities of radical groups.”

Israeli officials have categorically denied the allegations. On Twitter, Lior Haiat, spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “The accusations that appear in the statement by Church leaders are baseless, and distort the reality of the Christian community in Israel.”

The statement is making waves in the religious world. The Church of England’s Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, took to Twitter to call it “unprecedented” and a “heart-cry.”

The Most Rev. Welby also co-authored an article with the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, the Most Rev. Hosam E. Naoum, that ran in the Sunday Times. It outlines the pressures that Palestinian Christians are under that have led to an exodus of the community, something they called “a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.”

The Most Revs. Welby and Naoum also offered examples of recent attacks on Christian institutions in Jerusalem: “The Romanian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was vandalized during Lent in March this year, the fourth attack on that holy place in a single month. During Advent last December, someone lit a fire in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified,” they wrote.

The two called on the region’s governments and authorities to take action. Similarly, the statement from Jerusalem’s Christian leaders closed with the recommendation that authorities take measures not only to protect the local Christian population but also to uphold “the rule of law.”