Pope Arriving At Time When Christians Are Leaving

May 6, 2009

Author: Ben Hubbard and Ibrahim Barzak

Source: The New York Times

Wire Service: AP


When Pope Benedict XVI comes to the Holy Land next week, he will greet a community of believers whose numbers are gradually eroding.

Dwarfed by Jewish and Muslim populations, young Christians are increasingly leaving to seek their futures elsewhere, especially those in the Palestinian territories and east Jerusalem. Christians say they are treated with suspicion by both Jews and Muslims and feel caught in an increasingly polarized conflict between them.

''It became a Muslim cause and a Jewish cause, so Christians, we have nothing to do,'' said Zakaria Mishriki, a 32-year-old Christian storekeeper in Jerusalem's Old City who has cousins in several U.S. states and Canada.

The last decade has also seen rising Islamic sentiment in Palestinian society, which has increased pressure on Christians, said Mishriki, whose shop offers wooden nativity scenes and crucifixes.

Meanwhile, Jewish Israelis do not differentiate between Muslims and Christians and consider all Palestinians a threat, added Mishriki, who was born to a Catholic family and now considers himself Protestant.

The Holy Land's Christians mainly consist of Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox, with smaller contingents of Armenians, Assyrians and a smattering of other sects.

While their numbers have risen slightly since the period when Israel was founded, the growth rate has fallen far behind those for Jews and Muslims in the country.