11/19/2004, 00.00
Israel - Palestine - Holy Land
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Call to Christians: Pilgrims, come to the Holy Land

Representatives of all Churches: "The West, driven by secularism, is forgetting Christians".

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) -- "A call to all people of faith: Visit the Holy Land".  This is the title of a document signed by representatives of different Christian denominations in Jerusalem this week, to encourage Christians around the world to resume visits to the Holy Sites. 

On Monday, November 13, the Custodian of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, papal representative Archbishop Pietro Sambi, and representatives of the Greek and Russian Orthodox, Armenian and Protestant Churches signed a joint statement urging Christians of the world to visit the Holy Land and, thus, contribute to preventing the exodus of Christians from these areas.  It is the first time that Christians jointly sign a document of this kind.

"There are many things that divide Christians, but there are many more that unite us.  The Holy Land is one of these," Fr. Pizzaballa said, echoing Pope John XXIII's famous phrase.

 Archbishop Sambi referred to pilgrimages to the Holy Sites as times of "joy and spiritual enrichment", saying that they offer both spiritual and material encouragement to the small Christian communities there.  Many Christian Palestinians in fact make a living thanks to religious tourism to the Holy Sites.  Furthermore, pilgrims can create "an atmosphere of peace" that can contribute to "defusing the ever-tense political situation between Israelis and Palestinians."

The document bemoans the flight of Christians from the Holy Land.  Today they make up only 1.6% of the population.  "Along with the Christian exodus the Christian vision of man regarding the respect for the human person and human life is also disappearing, in a region in which these values are in open decline", the document states.  It also laments the inaction of "governments of the Christian West", which, "driven by a false vision of religious freedom and perhaps by an exacerbated secularism," forget to help Christians and come to the aid of Palestinians for merely ideological and political motives.

Speaking in support of the document, Israel's Minister of Tourism, Gideon Ezra, provided figures on the decline of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land.  This decline has been the result of security problems related to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.  In 2000, Christians made up 60% of the 2.6 million tourists in Israel.  In 2004, the percentage fell to 29. (LF)
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