ROME – HM Television and the EUK Mamie Foundation have just published a new documentary on the current situation of the Christians in the Holy Land entitled, “At the Gates of Zion”.
The audiovisual production with a duration of thirty minutes contains interviews with Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Fr. Artemio Vítores, Custodial Vicar of the Holy Land, Amal Hazeen, Christian from Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territories and currently professor in the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, and Majdi Hashoul, seminarian from the diocese of Haifa, Israel.
The purpose of this video is to help Christians around the world to get to know the difficult situation in which the local Christians are living in the Holy Land, the land where Our Lord lived and walked during His life. In 1948, the Christian population in Israel was 30%. Now it is only 1.2%. These statistics clearly denote a tragic reality. The video is produced especially for groups of pilgrims before traveling in order to help them to be prepared and to know the local situation of the Christians.
Cardinal Edwin O’Brien affirms in the video: “We encourage pilgrimages to the Holy Land. It is a great sign of support , not only financial support for the charitable works that the Church is doing there, but also phycological support for the Christians. When they see the interests that the world-wide family of Christians takes in them, it encourages them to persevere”.
Professor Amal Hazeen recalls in the interview her youth and childhood, when she would go every morning to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the profound impact this had on her. She also tells the memories of her visits to Jerusalem and to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre: “Being Christian and having been born in that land is a great gift.” However she laments the difficulties that the Christians in Bethlehem, for example, have to visit the holy places today: “Today, unfortunately, it is fairly difficult for Christians to go there. They cannot travel through different cities without a permission that is hard to obtain permission for residents – Christians and Muslims alike.”
Madji Hashoul is a young seminarian for the diocese of Haifa, Israel, and he is currently a subdeacon and is soon to be ordained a deacon. He explains: “Our situation remains for the most part unknown in the world. Many do not even know of our existence. We are there, we live there. We are not recent converts, we have been Christian since the time of Jesus. The local Christians are Arab Christians.” And he continues: “As Christians in Israel, we do not consider ourselves first, second, or third class citizens. No, we feel even more inferior. There is an attitude of discrimination both in job opportunity and when one frequents different institutions. Unfortunately, one experiences inferiority.”
Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, while he recognizes that the situation is very difficult and even tragic, he still remains very positive because of the depth of the Faith of the local Christians in spite of the persecution: “I just couldn’t get over the depth of faith of those who were there, and the youth, how serious they are about their catholic faith. The activities and the unity that they show. They are a minority and because of that they bond together very tightly. They are strong in their identity and despite the many obstacles that face them, nothing stops their practice of the faith and their enthusiasm for the faith.”
Professor Amal, after explaining the situation of the local Christians in her intreview, proposes a solution: “Dialogue is needed here. When someone prepares to dialogue, they should take into consideration the issues of peace, justice, equality. Everyone should have the right to be able to live in fraternity and peace and be able to visit those places freely.”
Madji Hashoul, on the other hand, concludes his intervention in the video asking Catholics throughout the world to visit them: “The most important thing for us is that those who visit those holy places keep us in mind, that they keep in mind that this small local Christian community is part of the Universal Church, and an important part at that, because it has survived centuries of extremely intense persecution.”