TWO THOUSAND years after Christ's birth, Arab Christians see themselves as a beleaguered community, abandoned by the outside Christian world, facing extinction. They fear the Holy Land could become a museum for tourists bereft of Christianity as a living religion. As the Holy Land prepares to host a record number of pilgrims this millennium year, they plead that they not be ignored or bypassed.
"The most important thing for Christian visitors is to express solidarity with their Christian brothers and sisters in this land," Very Rev. Michael Sellors, Dean of St. George's (Anglican) Cathedral in East Jerusalem, which has a large Arab Christian congregation, told the Journal. "They need encouragement and support. It would be disastrous if people came to look merely at holy places instead of meeting and mixing with `living stones.'"
Those who guide pilgrims have a responsibility to ensure their charges "see a whole picture," he added. "They are not always aware of the difficulties the Christian community experiences; what it means to live with closure, when every now and then the borders are closed and you cannot move between A and B."
And, please, Mr. Sellors pleaded, don't ask Arab Christians when they converted. "It means they (the pilgrims) have not read their Bible. If they did, they would see that on the first Pentecost there were Arabs in Jerusalem, and many Christians can trace their history back to the first Pentecost."
Sharing a common culture, mother tongue, and intertwined history with their Muslim neighbours, these "living stones" have deep roots in the land where Christianity was born. Arab Christians suffered the same fate as Muslims during the Holy Land's bloody conquest by Christian crusaders who didn't distinguish between Arab Christian and Muslim. Today they share with fellow Palestinians bitter memories of dispossession, discrimination and injustice.
Hilary Rantisi, an Anglican Palestinian, says she can trace her Christian heritage back to the third century biblical village of Lydda. …