Why aren't there more Christians living in Israel?

Commentary - A Splinter of Wood Against Doom: How Christians in the Holy Land are fighting against their disappearance

A wood splinter against doom: How the Christians in the Holy Land fight against their disappearance

Christians complain that they are slowly being driven out of the Holy Land. Is it your own fault?

There would probably be no more Christians in the Holy Land if the Persian invaders 1400 years ago had correctly interpreted the mosaic on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. At that time in 614 there was a portrait of the Magi above the entrance to the church. The Persians believed that the gentlemen dressed in oriental clothes were Persian rulers - and spared the Church of the Nativity from their destructive anger. The church was rebuilt several times in the centuries that followed. The crusaders, for example, massively reduced the size of the entrance gate so that the donkeys of the farmers' market on the forecourt could no longer trample into the holy place unhindered.

Today the building on the edge of the old town of Bethlehem is the oldest church in the Middle East and one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Christian believers. Especially now in Advent the pilgrims crowd in front of the place where Jesus is said to have been born. The temporary march of believers hides the fact that Christians in the region fear for their future. In Bethlehem itself today only every fifth resident is a Christian, in Israel every fiftieth, in the Palestinian Territory every hundredth.

The Christians in the area of ​​today's Israel and Palestine feel threatened - no longer primarily by donkeys trampling in, but by the growing proportion of the Muslim population. In the shadow of the Middle East conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, religious gossip has built up. The US television channel “Fox News” recently devoted a report entitled “Battle for Bethlehem” to the subject - and the head of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem noted in a guest commentary for the “Guardian” that that religious peace in the region depends on mutual willingness to grant one another free access to the holy places. This willingness is decreasing. The situation is threatening to tip over.

"Christianity is being sold out in the Holy Land - in the middle of Advent."

If you ask the tourist guides who are queuing up in the Church of the Nativity with their groups, you will hear two theories about the decline of Christians in the Holy Land. Theory 1: The political situation is deteriorating because of the conflict with Israel. Who can go, goes. And the Christians who tend to be wealthy are much more likely to leave than the poor Muslims. Theory 2: Christians simply have too few children. It's your own fault. The first theory is difficult to test. But the second is true. While Christian women in the region give birth to an average of 1.89 children, there are 2.83 children among Muslim women.

This does not bode well for the Christian presence in the Holy Land. But this is sorely needed if you want to preserve the churches and the culture, say the Christians, wherever you go in the area. And if your fellow believers no longer want to live here, then at least Christian tourists should mark their presence. So what to do The Catholic Church tries with relics. At the beginning of Advent, the Pope had a piece of wood from the crib brought back from Rome to Bethlehem. The splinter has been on display in Rome since the 7th century and is now set to become a pilgrim magnet in the Holy Land. Rome no longer needs to lure the masses with relics, says Israeli religious expert Yisca Harani recently in the newspaper “Haaretz”. Bethlehem does.

The situation is similar in Nazareth, around 130 kilometers further north. In the exposed concrete cathedral, where the Mother of God is worshiped, the faithful crowd these days. The shopping streets in the old town have been swept empty. Many shops that sell Christian souvenirs have "Sale" signs. Christianity is being sold out in the Holy Land - in the middle of Advent.