The Christian exodus, underway for decades, has reached critical levels in recent years. Emigration is a central concern to local Vatican officials, who are trying to stave off the flight with offers of jobs, housing and scholarships.
"I am sad to think that maybe the time will come in which Christianity will disappear from this land,"
said the Rev. Juan Solana, a Vatican envoy who oversees the Notre Dame center, a Jerusalem hotel for pilgrims that employs 150 locals, mostly Christians.
Solana said he employs Christians to encourage them
"to stay here, to love this land, to be aware of their particular vocation to be the witnesses of Christianity in this land."
The Christian exodus is taking place across the Middle East. Jordan, where Pope Francis will begin his three-day trip Saturday, has thousands of Christian refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq.
The decline began with high Jewish immigration and Christian emigration after the 1948 war surrounding Israel's establishment, and has been abetted by continued emigration and a low birthrate among Christians who stay.
About 38,000 Palestinian Christians live in the West Bank, 2,000 in Gaza, and 10,000 in Jerusalem, according to the local Roman Catholic church.
Israel has 130,000 Arab Christians. There are also nearly 200,000 non-native Christians in Israel, including Christians who moved from the former Soviet Union because of Jewish family ties, guest workers and African migrants.by johnib
|Father Ibrahim Shomali, the parish priest of Beit Jala|