Holy Land Christians Strive for Existence

The tiny Christian population in the Holy Land is endangered of becoming extinct, and the few that remain are aging or willing to leave if a job opportunity is offered elsewhere.

"We are dying," said West bank resident Nabil Massis, 50, who looks older than he is and has been jobless for years, according to Cox News Service. "The one who gets an opportunity to leave for a job will leave."

In Taybeh, West bank – the last entirely Christian village in the Holy Land – there has been nine to ten deaths within the past two months, compared to only four births.

Mayor David Khoury admits the severely disproportionate birth to death rate is "a big problem."

The low birth rate, high death rate coupled with the stream of emigration has made the extinction of the 2,000 year presence of Christians in the birthplace of the religion a bleak, but realistic possibility.

There are now only about 1,300 people in Taybeh – half the number of 40 years ago.

But religious and public leaders are working on a counterattack plan and recently launched new initiatives to bolster the economy and entice the younger generation to stay.

"Everybody used to tell us the same thing: 'Give us a job. We love our country and family and village, but give us a job,'" said Raed Abu Sahliya, 43, the parish priest of the Roman Catholic church in Taybeh, to Cox.

The Catholic church in Taybeh has responded to the need by creating dozens of jobs in the church's school and medical center using donations mostly from the Catholic diocese of Florence, Italy. It has also constructed a guest house for pilgrims and an 18-bed nursing home.

Other new additions include a ceramic and handicraft workshop and a new olive press that makes extra virgin olive oil sold in the United States, France and Australia.

The town has also secured grants from international development funds in the past year to repair roads and historic homes in hopes of attracting more tourists. Other upcoming public construction projects include burying telephone and power lines as well as building sewer lines.

"All of these projects are designed for people to stay here," said Catholic priest Abu Sahliya. "We are the last castle. We are the only entirely Christian village left in the Holy Land."

Despite the effort, 50 people have left the town since the initiatives began, mostly leaving for the United States.

Arab Christians, overall, make up less than two percent of the Holy Land population (Israel and Palestinian territories), down from about 15 percent at the turn of the last century.