Christians Wary of Future in Mideast, Vatican Aide Says

Shrinking Percentage Noted by Cardinal Arinze

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VATICAN CITY, MAR. 13. 2001 ( Christian communities wonder about their future in the Holy Land, where their share of the population is dropping, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, council president, recently visited Israel at the invitation of the apostolic nuncio and the Holy Land´s Catholic bishops. They exchanged points of view on the present situation, especially relations between Christians and Muslims.

Over Vatican Radio in Rome, Cardinal Arinze said that in the Holy Land «Christian communities wonder about their future, given the fact that their percentage is not increasing but decreasing: There is talk of 2% and some even say there is only 1.5%.»

«The problems stem from the difficult economic situation, the restricted freedom of movement, and the lack of job opportunities,» he said. «The number of people who want to leave is increasing; to emigrate to the United States, Canada …»

On his trip Cardinal Arinze also met with Armenian Orthodox personalities, Anglicans and Lutherans. He visited the principal study centers in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and met with members of the various religious institutes in the region. He delivered an address at the Notre Dame Center on «Muslims and Christians: Relations in the Third Millennium.»

Later, Cardinal Arinze spoke at the University of Bethlehem, directed by the Christian Brothers, on the role of the university in promoting the Christian-Muslim dialogue. He also paid a courtesy call on the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

Regarding the declining percentage of Christians, Cardinal Arinze told Vatican Radio, «This is neither good for the Muslims nor the Christians. It is not good for Muslims because the Arabs have been Christians and Muslims for centuries. Let´s not forget that Christianity already existed in this area 700 years before the birth of Islam, and Arab culture has been formed by Christians and Muslims.»

Another concern he noted is that «various Christian families — Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican — take initiatives of collaboration with Muslims but they realize that they have need of greater coordination among themselves, and of a form of collaboration that must be created. In the meeting I had with them, the Christians assured me of their determination to continue on this path.»

«In the third place, Christians see the need to collaborate with the Muslims, beginning, naturally, with the Palestinian territory, but not excluding the rest of Israel,» Cardinal Arinze emphasized. «The entire Holy Land must be involved. If religious collaboration is a need in all parts of the world, in the Holy Land it is even more urgent.»

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