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Christians being driven out of the Holy Land say church leaders

by Donna Birrell

Christian leaders in Jerusalem are warning of a growing threat to Christian communities in the Holy Land because of attacks by fringe and radical groups.

Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders in Jerusalem have written a joint letter to civil authorities in Israel, Palestine and Jordan over concern about the attacks which they claim are driving Christians out of the Holy Land. They say local politicians and security officials are failing to take action to prevent the violence.  

"Since 2012 there have been countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalised and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives. These tactics are being used by such radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land."

The statement acknowledges the declared commitment of the Israeli government to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land but says it "is therefore a matter of grave concern when this national commitment is betrayed by the failure of local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies to curb the activities of radical groups who regularly intimidate local Christians, assault priests and clergy, and desecrate Holy Sites and churches properties."

The leaders are calling on local political authorities to engage in urgent dialogue with them to resolve the issue.

The acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev Dr Ioan Sauca has released a statement agreeing with the church leaders' assessment of the situation.

"The statement issued by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem highlights the increasing threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land posed by attacks and incursions by radical groups who seek to destroy the religious and cultural diversity of the region.

"Recognising the gravity of the threat accelerating the already tragically steep decline in the Christian presence, the WCC strongly supports the church leaders' call for an urgent dialogue with the political authorities of Israel, Palestine and Jordan with a view to addressing the challenges posed by radical groups and to protecting and supporting the Christian community.

"The Christians of the Holy Land must be respected and valued as part of both the heritage and future of the region, and assured the same rights as others and protections appropriate to a threatened minority, for which the political authorities of the region are both legally and morally responsible."


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