The Christians who still live in the Holy Land face a Christmas that will be far from happy, merry or bright. They are a persecuted minority.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…” This hymn, and dozens like it will be sung all over the world soon, as they are every Christmas. Cards depicting the scene of the holy birth will decorate millions of houses. Nativities will be set up in homes, in shopping malls, in churches. But as people prepare to celebrate the humanity of a man known as Jesus of Nazareth, his homeland is no longer a safe place to be for those who follow him.
There are 14 million Christians throughout the Holy Land but they are a rapidly dwindling minority. Many of them are so desperately vulnerable that they feel they have no choice now but to emigrate. In Iraq alone, since the fall of Saddam, a startling two-thirds have fled. Since 2003 at least a million have left. Most of them went to Syria. Now they face a second wave of displacement as they are no longer protected there. There have been reports of rape, murder and attacks directed at them and the Christian community lives in terror. When they feel they have to run for their lives they head for Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. It is said that the ancient Syrian Armenian community has all but gone.
Egypt has seen churches being burnt and anti-Coptic rioting. In Gaza and on the West Bank, Christians are caught up in chaotic uncertainty. To be Christian in the Holy Land, the birthplace of Jesus, is to live in fear. The Vatican has confirmed as credible the estimate that 100,000 Christians are killed every year for their beliefs.
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