Bombs, civil war, “intifada”. The Holy Land is lacerated by violence. Nevertheless, Christians and their institutions continue to be the living witnesses of the history of salvation. “Their presence prevents the Holy Places from being reduced to mere archaeological sites”. During a meeting held at the Pontifical Holy Cross University, Patriarch of Jerusalem Mgr. Fouad Twal described the present life of those who believe in Jesus and live in the same places where Jesus lived.
Although they are slightly less than 2% of the total population, that is, 450,000 people out of over 18 million inhabitants in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, “they still feel deeply today that they are the living memory of Jesus’ story.” The prelate emphasizes an aspect that is close to his heart: “Christians who live on the Holy Land today descend directly from the Christians of the very first Christian community, the Mother Church of Jerusalem.” At present, they have the role of “a buffer between two majorities”, a “small flock” between Muslims and Jews. It is not easy to live next to each other. The main difficulties of the dialogue between them are caused by ‘”military occupation, mutual violence, growth of both Israeli and Muslim religious fanaticism.”
Moreover, their coexistence is further undermined by a “wall of separation, which is over 700 km long”. An 8-meter-heigh wall of reinforced concrete that isolates the Palestinian population and restricts “freedom of movement, study, work, travel, and medical care”. An insult to peace. There is a climate “of general insecurity” throughout the country, which causes “a true exodus of Christians from the Holy Land.” Recently, the wall has been extended. This decision was taken by Israel following the agreement signed on June 26, 2015, in which the Holy See recognizes the State of Palestine and its admission to the UN as an observer member. “The agreement, among other things – reminds the patriarch – guarantees freedom of conscience and religion”, but also “the freedom to found charitable institutions”, which are so precious and necessary both in Jerusalem and everywhere else in the country.
Coexistence is more peaceful among Christians of “all faiths” (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) whose number is a little over one thousand. “Their living conditions are very difficult. There is unemployment, there are many children, and a lot of houses are collapsing”. In Palestine, in general, relations with Muslims “remain good, despite some episodes of fundamentalism”. But it is generally recognized that Christian presence there is playing “a positive role in Arab society.”
The same happens in Israel, where “the Church moves on a mainly Arab soil, but is also confronted with the challenges of the Jewish world.” Those who believe in Jesus do not have an easy life on this side of the wall. “The visible walls we see are the embodiment of even worse walls formed in human hearts. They are called hate, fear, mistrust… Before breaking down these visible walls, which is the easiest thing to do, we must break down the walls in Man’s heart. This requires education, trust, justice, and courage. It takes more courage to establish peace than to make war! A whim is enough to spark war. It is an easy thing. Building peace requires more courage, more strength, more good will and this good will is often lacking”.
“Who can really heal an 8-year-old child who has witnessed the death of his parents’ or that of his grandmother who could not leave the building because she could not walk, or because she was too deaf to notice danger? Who can make this child become a healthy and normal citizen who would feel love and respect for everyone? Only education, collaboration, and dialogue in the truth – he says – are the bridges that can join the hopes of the Holy Land and bring down walls built in Man’s heart, which are higher, invisible, and full of hate.