Survey: Christians would leave Holy Land’s cities

By Judith Sudilovsky

BEIT JALLA, West Bank — Nearly two-thirds of Christians in Jerusalem and the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem said in a survey that they would emigrate if given a chance, Bethlehem University sociologist Bernard Sabella found.

Sabella, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said he was shocked that 62 percent of Christians indicated they would like to leave.

A similar survey in 2007 reported that only 26 percent of respondents said they wanted to exit the area.

Christians sing and dance with palm and olive branches during the traditional Palm Sunday procession March 24, 2013, on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Christians sing and dance with palm and olive branches during the traditional Palm Sunday procession March 24, 2013, on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Respondents cited a lack of employment as the primary reason for wanting to leave. Christians also identified the region’s difficult political situation, steep economic challenges, restrictions under Israel laws, measures that affect opportunities for a normal life, lack of quality education and lack of housing as other factors involved in their desire to leave, according to the survey.

“One problem Christian Palestinians always come back to is the absence of a political solution. It is clear the overwhelming majority of Christian Palestinians think the lack of advancement is a problem,” said Sabella, who presented the results at a press conference on May 16 in Beit Jalla.

He noted that as a community Christian Palestinians are committed to their faith and see it as part of their identity; 46 percent regularly attend Sunday Mass.

“Sunday Mass is a major event for most Christian families. It helps their identity and recreates the traditions of faith we have inherited from our forefathers,” he said.

Regarding the pope’s May 24-26 pilgrimage to the Holy Land May, 48 percent said they expected the pope’s visit to lead to improvement in interfaith relations with an additional 26 percent hoping it would lead to unity across denominations and Christian churches. At the same time, 47 percent do not expect the visit to have any influence on the region’s political situation.

Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the Jerusalem Interchurch Center, said there were 30,000 Christians in Jerusalem prior to Israel’s independence in 1948. The number has fallen to 8,000 today.

Prayer to Mary: Pope doesn’t leave Rome without it

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis entrusted his upcoming apostolic journey to the Holy Land to Our Lady when he visited a Marian icon at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome this morning.

Icon of Mary, Salvation of the Roman People, seen during service at Basilica of St. Mary Major in 2011

This icon of Mary, “Salus Populi Romani,” is at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

He brought roses and prayed in silence before the icon for about 15 minutes, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told us today.

The unannounced morning visit marks what has become a Pope Francis tradition: visiting the “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people)  to pray for Mary’s protection and care before a major trip.

He did the same thing before heading to Brazil last year when he prayed that Mary protect and care for everyone attending World Youth Day and for all young people around the world:

File photo of Pope Francis praying in front of Marian icon in Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome

Pope Francis praying in front of the icon of “Salus Populi Romani,” at St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome July 20, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)


He also visited the day after his election, at the start of his new journey as supreme pontiff:

Newly-elected Pope Francis leaves flowers in front of icon at Rome basilica

The day after his election in 2013, Pope Francis visited the icon at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)


The icon has special significance for the pope and he has visited it often on different occasions to pray. He has said that the Basilica of St. Mary Major was the first Marian shrine in the West where the image of the Mother of God — the “Theotokos” — was venerated.

According to tradition, this image of Mary embracing Jesus as a young boy was the work of the evangelist St. Luke, who painted it on a tabletop made by Jesus himself in St. Joseph’s carpentry shop. Many centuries later, Jesuit missionaries distributed reproductions of the image to promote Marian devotion around the world.





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