JERUSALEM, NOV. 18, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Good relations with the people of Israel must be encouraged, and Christians in this land must be supported, says the vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land.
Father Artemio Vitores made these statements to the Vatican missionary agency Fides on the occasion of the visit of the president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, to the Vatican on Thursday.
“Pope Benedict XVI is doing very well,” said the Franciscan. “His actions speak clearly. Christians must continue to rediscover their roots in Judaism and build ever better relations with the Jews, our elder brothers.”
Father Vitores continued: “President Katsav’s visit to the Vatican is part of the framework of good relations between Israel and the Holy See. This theme will be fundamental.
“The climate of good relations is also felt in the Holy Land with increasing efforts to reach a better mutual understanding between Jews and Christians, which will bring reciprocal spiritual, social, as well as economic benefits, with a flow of pilgrimages.”
“However,” said Father Vitores, “we must speak of the situation in Bethlehem.”
According to the vicar of the Custody, “the Israeli authorities increased control at Jerusalem border check points creating difficulties for the local people, the friars and pilgrims.”
Less than 12%
“Help us keep Bethlehem, where Christians are ever fewer,” the Franciscan said in a plea to world leaders and all Christians.
According to Father Vitores, Christians were the majority in 1965. “Today we are less than 12%.”
“In recent years,” he said, “impoverished by economic, social and religious difficulties, at least 3,000 Christians have left Bethlehem in search of better prospects. There is a danger that Christians may disappear from Bethlehem altogether.
The vicar of the Custody continued: “We Franciscans do our best but the situation is serious! We want all Christians, all believers to know that conditions here are getting worse every day.
“Bethlehem is where Christ was born, the place of the Incarnation, a fundamental mystery of our faith. Bethlehem is our heart, the heart of all Christians. Help us to save this holy place.”