BACKGROUND The declining number of Christians in the Holy Land

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online
Jerusalem (dpa) – The Vatican hopes Pope Francis‘ three-day visit to Jordan, the West Bank and Israel will unite Christians of varying traditions across a region in which many of the faithful have fled due to turmoil, dim economic prospects and persecution.

Some 430,000 Arab Christians live in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, according to the Holy See.

Most Christians in the Holy Land are Greek Orthodox or members of the Eastern Church, which split from the Vatican-led Roman Catholic Church in 1054. There are also other denominations in the region, including Maronites, Armenians and Syrian Christians.

Of Jordan‘s 250,000 Arab Christians, 80,000 are Roman Catholics. In Israel, there are about 130,000 Christians, with 24,000 of those Roman Catholic. Of the 50,000 Christians in the Palestinian areas, 17,850 are Roman Catholics.

In Israel, Christians live as a minority within a minority in the Jewish state.

Most of Israel‘s Arab minority are Sunni Muslims, and only a small number are Christians. Arabs who live in Israel, whether Christian or Muslim, regard themselves as Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

In the Palestinian areas, Christians live among a Sunni Muslim majority.

Once a much larger presence in the Holy Land, the cradle of the faith, Christians now make up little more than 3 per cent in Jordan, under 2 per cent in Israel and the West Bank, and 0.1 per cent in the Gaza Strip.

The Pew Research Center reported that in 1900 Christians composed 10 per cent of the overall population in the region, which in their study also included Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. By 2010, that percentage had dropped to 5 per cent.

Emigration and a falling birth rate as compared to Muslims are the main causes of the decline. The targeting of Christians by Islamist extremist groups, particularly in Iraq, Egypt and Syria, have caused many believers to leave, along with political unrest and weak economies.