Only lasting peace will stop the exodus of Christians from the land where Jesus was born, according to a bishop in the region.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem, described how peace was needed to stop the haemorrhaging of Christians from Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Bishop Shomali said: "Peace creates a very positive atmosphere. Without it, there is insecurity and the economic situation becomes precarious. Then, work must be created."
Echoing Pope Benedict's recent exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente (The Church in the Middle East), he went on to say Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories are called to be witnesses to their Faith.
He said: "But spiritual encouragement and holding on to faith are of the greatest importance because being Christian in the Holy Land is not issuing from a simple coincidence – it is a vocation.
"If the Christians consider it a privilege to be born in the Holy Land and have a testimony of faith to share, they will be motivated and this spiritual motivation is worth more than all material motivations."
Describing how Palestinian Christians suffer from the same problems affecting all those living in the Palestinian territories, such as lack of work and restrictions on movement, he said the situation in the town of Christ's birth is particularly dire.
"In Bethlehem, people suffer on welfare. Thirty percent of young people have no work," said Bishop Shomali.
He added: "However, the more pilgrimages there are, the more the tourist industry functions, and then the more work there is to be had.
"Last month for example, there were several thousand pilgrims."
Bishop Shomali also confessed his fears that last month's fighting would devastate the economy.
He said: "During the eight-day war" as they call the conflict between Israel and Hamas last month "we were afraid it would endure and destroy the Palestinian economy.
"Israel has also suffered from all the rockets launched by Hamas and which hit Bethlehem.
"Thankfully there was a cease-fire, for war is the most negative experience one can live."
Bishop Shomali also stressed that only God can provide the lasting peace the region needs.
He said: "I continue to say to my pilgrims that in human terms there is no solution for the Israeli-Palestinian problem, for the nature of the problem is ideological.
"And so, in this Year of Faith, we must know that nothing is impossible for God. No, nothing is impossible for God.
"In general terms we pray when we cannot do for ourselves the things we want to do.
"For example, if I am suffering from an incurable illness, I ask God to help me, and I know that God can perform miracles.
"And so, this conflict is incurable and that is why we must believe that prayer can attain peace, despite all appearances, for God can surprise us as he often has in the history of the Church and in the history of humanity."