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In today's installment, John Feister reports on the difficulties of a dwindling Christian population in the Holy Land.

Special Features
Day 7: Jerusalem's Armenian Quarter, Ramallah, Taybeh

There is no doubt about it: The Christian population in the Holy Land is dwindling, even to the point of extinction. On this final night of our journalists’ immersion trip we had dinner in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, in the courtyard of a popular restaurant.

Photo by John Feister
Earlier today we had been at Ramallah, for a background report, and at Taybeh, where we saw an entrepreneurial brewer at work.

At our final dinner we were joined by Archbishop Aris Shiverman, who directs ecumenical programs for the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate. I sat next to our other guest, a representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church, rooted in Egypt.

Franciscan Father Ibrahim Faltas, whom I had serendipitously met on the street early that morning, had an unexpected conflict and was unable to come. The Franciscans, of course, have a critical presence in the Holy Land.

These many branches of the Christian family tree think of themselves first as Christian when it comes to their presence in this home of Christianity. (The occasional fighting by some over care of the Holy Places is an embarrassment to many others.) For all of the Christian Churches, for Judaism and, to a degree, Islam, Jerusalem is home.

Archbishop Shiverman offered us a short talk before dinner (I videorecorded it for an excerpt on this site later). His main point was one that we’ve been hearing all week: Christians belong in this land, and they are anything but newcomers. He walked us through some of the major historical moments in the past millennium—these folks take a long look at things!

His presence is no small thing. The Armenian Orthodox community may well be the oldest existing Church in Christianity. Armenia officially adopted Christianity in 301 A.D., but traces its roots to Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the first century.

Interestingly, Archbishop Shiverman used Franciscans as shorthand for Catholics when speaking of the clergy, though he did emphasize that his own Church was here when the Franciscans were assigned care of the holy places for the Roman Catholics.

The archbishop expressed a fear of local Christians that their fellow Christians worldwide would settle for the Holy Land as merely a tourist destination. "Might the Christian world stand on the sidelines and allow the shrines to become government-run museums?" he asked.

Yet the Church is a living presence, he insisted, and is struggling now for its breath. "We do not want just stones," he said, echoing so many we've met. "We want living stones." He and his people want the Church in the land of Jesus to be living and vibrant. To have less would be an injustice to the entire Church.





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Catharine of Bologna: Some Franciscan saints led fairly public lives; Catharine represents the saints who served the Lord in obscurity. 
<p>Catharine, born in Bologna, was related to the nobility in Ferrara and was educated at court there. She received a liberal education at the court and developed some interest and talent in painting. In later years as a Poor Clare, Catharine sometimes did manuscript illumination and also painted miniatures. </p><p>At the age of 17, she joined a group of religious women in Ferrara. Four years later the whole group joined the Poor Clares in that city. Jobs as convent baker and portress preceded her selection as novice mistress. </p><p>In 1456, she and 15 other sisters were sent to establish a Poor Clare monastery in Florence. As abbess Catharine worked to preserve the peace of the new community. Her reputation for holiness drew many young women to the Poor Clare life. She was canonized in 1712.</p> American Catholic Blog Dear God, when you pour yourself into the little vase of my being, I suffer the agony of not being able to contain you. The inner walls of this heart feel as if they were about to burst, and I am surprised this has not happened already.





 
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