Archbishop of Canterbury echoes fears for Christians in Holy Land

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.(Photo: Getty/iStock)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of his concern for Christians in the Holy Land after local church leaders warned of an increase in attacks on clergy and holy sites.

The warning came last week from the Patriarchs and leaders of local churches in Jerusalem who described "a systematic attempt" by fringe, radical groups to drive Christianity out of the Holy Land.

"Since 2012 there have been countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalised and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives," they said a joint statement. 

Writing in the Sunday Times with the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum, Archbishop Justin Welby said Christians in the Holy Land were "too often obscured and even forgotten beneath the competing perceptions of the geopolitics of the Middle East".

Their plight, the Archbishops wrote, is being compounded by the "historic tragedy" of the steadily declining presence of Christians in the Holy Land, which has seen their share of the population fall from 10 per cent a century ago, to less than 2 per cent now. 

The Archbishops said: "Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region. But the escalation of physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, and vandalism of holy sites by fringe, radical groups, are a concerted attempt to intimidate and drive them away."

They said action was needed to stop the "steady stream" of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek livelihoods elsewhere. 

Together they called on local governments and authorities to engage in practical coversations with Christians in the region to safeguard Christian culture and heritage.

"Over the Advent period, it's tempting to be seduced by cosy visions of the Christmas story - twinkling stars, exotic visitors, a painless birth of a baby who doesn't cry. The reality would have been much different: this is a story of God's embrace of humanity in all its messiness," they concluded. 

"The first Christmas tells us of God coming into our world among ordinary lives of human struggle. It foregrounds a refugee family, against the backdrop of a genocide of infants. There's not much about lullabies and cuddly farm animals.

"So let's get real this Christmas. When we sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem", or "Once in Royal David's City", let's hear the voice of the church of the Holy Land - and thank them for their gift to all of us. Let's pray for their flourishing and their future: a future intertwined with the future prosperity and common good of all communities.