Pilgrims flock to the ancient Church of the Holy Land as the Palestinian community dwindles

BURQIN, West Bank (Reuters) – One of the world’s oldest churches, built on a cave in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and adorned with golden icons, draws thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.

But the congregation of Palestinian Christians in the Church of the Ten Lepers is shrinking.

The first church on the site in the northern West Bank city of Burqin was built more than 1,600 years ago to commemorate a miracle.

Christians believe that in the cave that used to serve as a Roman cistern, Jesus was healing 10 lepers who were isolated there to prevent the spread of the disease as he passed by on the road from Nazareth to Jerusalem.

Political cartoons about world leaders

Early Christians were persecuted and the first prayers at the site were in secret. But in the fourth century, Saint Helena, mother of the first Roman emperor who embraced Christianity, visited the city and decided to build a church there, said Father Spiridon Shukha.

The Greek Orthodox priest recently led a Friday service at the church in front of about a dozen worshipers, a congregation dwarfed by the number of visitors to the church, which Burqin’s mayor said was between 200 and 300 a month in 2019.

While holiday services are held on Sundays, the dwindling local community gathers for prayer on Fridays, when they are free from work, for most of the year, Father Shukha said.

Today, only about 70 Palestinian Christians remain in the town of 8,500, said Moeen Jabbour, its administrative chief.

“In Palestine we face several difficulties, including the (Israeli) occupation and the economic situation… There are no jobs, so (our youth)… move elsewhere,” he said. “That’s why the Christian presence in this city is shrinking.”

Burqin is not alone, and there are concerns within the church that some Christian holy sites in Jesus’ birthplace could become mere historical monuments.

According to Protecting Holy Land Christians, a campaign organized by church leaders in Jerusalem, the proportion of Christians in the population across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories has fallen to 2% from 11% about a century ago.

The campaign says Christians are also being displaced by increasing acts of violence and vandalism targeting them.

Father Shukha acknowledged there have been challenges but believes in the continued survival of his community as part of the local fabric.

“We are the children of this country. This is where Jesus lived, not in Europe or the United States,” he said. “It’s true, we are few here, but we call ourselves the salt of the earth, because just a pinch of salt can add a lot of flavor to this city.”

(Additional reporting and writing by Henriette Chacar; Editing by James Mackenzie and John Stonestreet)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

Brian Ashcraft

TheHiu.com is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – admin@thehiu.com. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button