• PALESTINE \ Sep 19, 2009
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    Catholic Patriarch Twal: Christians are Fleeing Holy City
Catholic Patriarch Twal: Christians are Fleeing Holy City The patriarch, who is head of the Latin-rite Church in Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Cyprus, also thanked British Christians and others who helped Holy Land Christians, saying: "We count on your love and your support. Without you, what is our future?"

During a speech at Westminster Cathedral Patriarch Twal said that emigration had drastically reduced the number of Christians in the Holy Land - the result of economic despair, war and restrictions imposed by Israeli security.

In the six decades since the state of Israel was formed the Christian population in the region has fallen from 10 per cent to just two per cent, and Christians now only form substantial populations in Bethlehem, in the Palestinian territories, and Nazareth in Israel.

He also said that the Pope's May visit to Israel and the West Bank in May had not brought any respite, are the "ongoing discrimination within Israel threatens Christians and Muslims alike".

He said: "From limiting movement and ignoring housing needs to taxation burdens and infringing on residency rights, Palestinian Christians do not know where to turn."

He also criticised Israel's security barrier, a part-fence, part-wall constructed to keep out suicide bombers, which cuts through Palestinian towns and villages.

Patriarch Twal said the restricted movement "has enclosed many Palestinians in ghetto-like areas where access to work, medical care, schooling and other basic services have been badly affected".

"We have a new generation of Christians who cannot visit the Holy Places of their faith which are only a few kilometres from their place of residence."

Patriarch Twal paid tribute to the work of ACN, which supports seminarians and religious Sisters in Bethlehem, families who make olive wood devotional items and initiatives promoting inter-faith cooperation.

Patriarch Twal was born in Madaba in Jordan in 1940 and was ordained at the age of 25. He entered the Vatican's diplomatic service in 1977 and worked in Honduras, Egypt, Berlin and Peru before becoming Bishop of Tunis in 1992. He was appointed coadjutor archbishop of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in 2005 and Latin Patriarch last year.

Speaking to The Catholic Herald before his return to Jerusalem, he said that both sides of the conflict had to accept the other's right to exist, but that peace could not be found while certain sections of Israeli society wished to keep a divided society united through conflict.

The patriarch has been meeting Jewish and Muslim leaders since 2003 in order to help inter-religious relations. But he also said that education textbooks on both sides continued to refer to the other side in a derogatory fashion, continuing the cycle of prejudice. "They were attacking the others, they do not help with reconciliation and the peace culture," he said.

Speaking of the need to achieve a lasting settlement in the region, Patriarch Twal said: "If in 61 years we have not been able to find peace, this means that the methods we used were the wrong ones."

He added: "It seems that politicians are more afraid of peace than of war and they prefer to manage the conflict rather than solve it."

Patriarch Twal said that in the occupied territories, people "are completely at the mercy of the Israeli military, and at present the Gaza Strip is living under an Israeli-imposed siege, which has created a drastic humanitarian crisis".

"Before 1948 we were 300,000 in Jerusalem. Now we are only 10,000. The question is whether Israel will allow young people to work and to live, and the unification of families. A young Christian or Muslim from Jerusalem cannot get married to a Christian or Muslim from Ramallah."

But he said he was "cautiously optimistic" because of President Barack Obama's "change in tone".

While in London the patriarch met bishops from England and Wales as well as representatives of organisations including the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and Missio (formerly Pontifical Mission Societies).
 Dr Edward, October 23, 2009 15:49