• Written by:

MAY 22, 2015 TO MAY 31, 2015
From May 22-31, 2015, Dr. Ramsay F. Dass, MD, President of the American Middle East Christians Congress, traveled to the Holy Land on a fact-finding mission, pilgrimage, and analysis of the political, social, and religious welfare of the Middle East Christians therein.

Background of the Mission

This mission was undertaken with an open-mind and without prejudice to the political and historical events that have taken place in this land for thousands of years and continue to occur. It took into consideration the historical and spiritual guidance of the Old and New Testament of the Bible, the building, destruction, and re-construction of Christian houses of worship that have been built over the past 2,000 years, and the word-of-mouth history of the native peoples regarding the sites of the birth, crucifixion, and post-crucifixion of Jesus Christ until He ascended to Heaven. The mission began in Bethlehem and ended in Jerusalem.

During this mission, I depended upon my guides, who were intellectually familiar with the contents of the Bible regarding the spiritual and historical importance of these holy places, as well as with members of different faiths–spiritual, political, and social–in the Holy Land.

I crisscrossed the Holy Land region beginning with Bethlehem and ending in Jerusalem. I studied the spiritual, historical, and political ramifications on the region’s historical sites–churches or other places–and the effect on these places through several events in history: the Jewish and Roman authority at the time of Jesus Christ; invaders, such as the Babylonians, Persians, Byzantines, Muslims, and Crusaders; the Islamic re-taking of the Holy Land by Saladin and his army and the Mamalik and Ottomon Empires, and the British mandate leading to the creation of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.


Throughout all these events in history, a sizeable segment of the native Holy Land Christians have withstood the time and pressure either to emigrate and/or convert.

In the past, many villages and cities, the Christians constituted a high percentage of the population, but have now become negligible in numbers, constituting less than 2% in some areas. Cities such as Bethlehem, where Christians constituted 80% at one time, now has only less than 12% of the same. Such reductions in percentage is due to multiple factors: invasions of the land by outsiders, Christian families limiting their families to few children (two to three in many cases) while Jewish and Muslim families had multiple children; and voluntary or forced emigration due to political, economic, or social pressure. Many Christian families, especially in Bethlehem, now have been affected by the security wall that was built almost ten years ago.


Throughout my visit and conversations with the native Holy Land Christians that have stood the test of time, I learned that their legal status has changed and continues to change because of the 1948 war, 1967 war, and the establishment of the wall that runs through many of their neighborhoods. I was very impressed with their pride and loyalty as Christians to the land. They have stayed to preserve Christians and Christianity. But at the same time, I could see their despair and frustration, especially in Bethlehem and surrounding areas and Jerusalem, where the wall has divided their families, affected their social structure, and deprived them economically. The political strife, especially in the Palestinian area, has reduced tourism, which is the Christians’ main source of their livelihood.

Some small villages with a Christian majority are suffering more with direct and indirect religious intolerance of other faith. They face encroachment of their villages by members of other faiths and culture who have forced them to sell their homes and land at deflated prices and to leave their village or town and for other areas outside the Holy Land, such as South America, North America, or Europe, where an estimated six million Palestinian Christians have now lived and done well for generations.

Historically, almost all the churches were destroyed by the Persians in 614 A.D. and later by Saladin and his troops in 1187 A.D. Many were converted into mosques or had mosques built adjacent to or on top of them. In the Post-Saladin era, the European church leadership came back to the Holy Land to re-build, re-vitalize, or improvise on the Christian holy sites. Today, most of the Holy Land Christian landmarks were built are well-preserved due to the efforts of the Byzantine authority, such as Queen Helena or Emperor Constantine, as well as the influx of the Crusaders and the support of European Christians, beginning with the Church of the Nativity, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and others.

Today, many of these churches, especially the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are divided internally by major and minor Christian religious leaders and denominations, with significant political, and social strife among them. You can find spots where the Orthodox can worship, the Latin can worship, and to a lesser extent where smaller denominations, such as Coptic and Ethiopian denominations, can worship.

Jerusalem is the center of the hierarchy of the Christian leadership. Whether Latin, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, or Evangelical, these hierarchies for many decades and centuries have been disunited and disenfranchised and have squibbled with each other, even today but to a lesser degree. Even in a city such as Old Jerusalem, the Armenian and Latin Christians occupy two distinct quarters, while the other two quarters are occupied by the Arab Muslims and the Jews. This has upset the faithful and intellectual, as well as ordinary Christians in the Holy Land.

Some of these hierarchies have dealt negatively with the wealth of property they own. They have sold this property to members of other faiths or organizations for a high profit, but that profit has not matriculated to the welfare of their parishioners or communities. Such sales have affected the geography of the holy places, such as where mosques are built across from the Church of the Nativity or adjacent to the Church of Lazarus in Bethany. Until today, some of the Christian houses of worship are under the Muslim authority, such as the Chapel of the Ascension, where you must pay Muslim authorities to enter these areas. The gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is still in the hands of a Muslim family that opens and closes the church as was agreed during Saladin’s time. This was one of the most puzzling and saddest observations of our visit.

We left the Holy Land with fear that the native Holy Land Christians will sooner or later be extinct, and their holy places run over by the Israeli, Palestinian, or European Christian organizations.

Positive Developments

Some Christian organizations, such as the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), through the tireless efforts and sincere actions of its president, Sir Rateb Rabie, and its board of directors, are working diligently to reverse some of these events by building preservation centers, such as a mid-size Holy Land Inn in Bethlehem, where children and grand-children of Holy Land immigrants are brought and educated regarding their past and present culture in order to keep them familiar with their heritage and not to lose it. The HCEF has also been a site of visits by other non-Palestinian/Holy Land natives from Europe, America, and elsewhere to do the same. It has built a beautiful, up-to-date museum in Bethlehem that highlights past and present artifacts and the historical developments of the Holy Land and Palestinian Christians.

Many Christian ecumenical organizations, including The Vatican, have initiated programs to assist the Holy Land and Palestinian Christians through many ways, including through jobs, education, culture, and purchase of homemade Christian religious products that have been for thousands of years part of their culture. I hope these efforts are not too little, too late.


The Holy Land is rich with Christian holy places that are mentioned in the Bible and even places that are not mentioned in the Bible. These places include the birth, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we went through the process of touching the living stones that Jesus Christ and His followers took, we experienced the most the fulfilling aspect of my trip. You feel the pain and agony Jesus Christ felt the last few days of his ministry. I wish every Christian and non-Christian who is interested can experience such a mission and the teaching, pain, suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection, which can never be described in any poetic or simplistic way. One truly feels that the Holy Spirit is present there.

It is the political, spiritual, and social duty of the governments that govern the Holy Land and its holy sites to maintain and promote these Christian religious sites and the native Christians, who have no desire but to stay in the Holy Land to preserve the message of Christianity and be custodians to the sites and its people. Such preservation is financially, politically, and socially advantageous to them, as evidenced by the thousands of pilgrims to the Holy Land and the new conscience of western countries regarding the preservations of Christians and Christianity in the Holy Land.

In this Twenty-First Century, the Holy Land leadership should understand that the world within Christianity and moreso outside Christianity is changing with the rise of fanatics and religious zealots who reap havoc on the community, including by burning and desecration of churches as was the case with the Benedictine Monastery of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes on the Sea of Galilee (Tabgha) on June 18, 2015. They must develop the following:

1. A council that speaks with one voice and one action directly and indirectly with the Israeli and Palestinian governments and that interacts closely with the interfaith and non-governmental organizations within these two entities;

2. A permanent public relations office with local and western oriented public relations that communicates, informs, and educates every entity in the world instantly regarding any events, publications, or policies of the council in order to have better public relations and influence in the events in the Middle East; and

3. A committee that continues dialogue with (a) other Middle East church leaders, (b) global Christian leadership, and (c) other world faith organizations.

Business cannot be as usual. The time is not usual. The Holy Land Christians are not asking, but rather demanding a change in the thinking and modus operandi of the church leadership that should change politically, culturally, and socially. There should be a sincere and courageous dialogue within the Holy Land Christian community, with leadership that is accessible to the community and a community vice versa with the courage to bring their feelings, attitudes, and proposals to the leadership.


In final analysis, I feel it is paramount to preserve the over 2,000-year journey for the Holy Land Christians and not to allow the political, religious, and social changes that are occurring to diminish them.

The Holy Land Christians have stood the test of time. We should help them stay and preserve Christians and Christianity in the Holy Land by supporting them politically, financially, and socially, and by appealing to the political powers, their religious affiliations, and to their non-governmental organizations to do the same.

Most importantly, we must appeal to the Christian hierarchy in Jerusalem to have a sense of unity with political, spiritual, and financial programs that act as one and assist the native Christians in the Holy Land. Otherwise, there will be a day all of us will regret.

After all, what is the Middle East without Christianity and the Holy Land without Christians?

Dr. Ramsay F. Dass, MD
President, American Middle East Christians Congress
www.middleeastchristian.org or www.amecc.us
Office: (248) 546-9100
Cell: (248) 763-6006

You may visit our re-edited and revised Third Edition of our book, The Middle East Christians: The Untold Story, at www.middleeastchristian.org or www.amecc.us.