In Vienna, Bishop Shomali speaks of the emigration of Christians from the Holy Land   2013/03/05
Source: JJ

VIENNA – The General Commissariat of the Holy Land and the Austrian section of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre jointly organized a “Pax et Bonum” symposium on the theme “A Message for Christians of the Holy Land” on February 23 at the Franciscan convent in Vienna. Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem gave a lecture on the social, economic and political situation of Christians in Israel and Palestine.  
Currently, Christians in the Holy Land, according to Bishop Shomali, face six “great challenges”: the coexistence of different Catholic Churches, ecumenical dialogue with other Christians, interfaith dialogue with Jews and Muslims, the peace process, economic conditions, and the emigration of Christians. The Bishop said that “these challenges are linked together. Taking up a challenge helps to understand the following.”

With particular emphasis on the economic aspects, Bishop Shomali said that “the Palestinian Territories are a rather poor country.” He recalled that the annual per capita income in the Palestinian Territories is $2,000, while reaching $28,000 in Israel. Among Palestinians, 30% are unemployed, compared with 5% of Israel. Economic development in the Palestinian territories also suffers due to the absence of ports and airports, difficulties in building construction, and the water crisis that takes place every summer…


To this precarious economic situation add the lack of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, for Christians, the fact of being a minority. These reasons can push Christians to emigrate. Bishop Shomali said that more than one million Palestinian and Israeli Christians live in the Diaspora. The percentage of the Christian population in the Holy Land, he stressed, has continued to decline. This community is now reduced to 2% of the total population of the Holy Land. However, the Bishop points out a paradox: “While the percentage has declined, the number increases. We are now 5,000 Christians in Palestine, 130,000 in Israel and several thousand Christian foreign workers working in Israel. I note at once that the majority of indigenous Christians is Arabic-speaking.”

In the face of the temptations to emigrate because of the difficulties of everyday life, the Bishop explains the attitude of the Church: “To encourage Christians to remain, it is not enough to promise them housing or economic benefits. This does not prevent them from leaving. We must convince them that remaining in the Holy Land is more than a coincidence and the opposite of a disgrace. It is a privilege and a vocation to which the Lord calls them.”

Christophe Lafontaine


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