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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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Philip and James: 
		<b>James, Son of Alphaeus:</b> We know nothing of this man except his name, and of course the fact that Jesus chose him to be one of the 12 pillars of the New Israel, his Church. He is not the James of Acts, son of Clopas, “brother” of Jesus and later bishop of Jerusalem and the traditional author of the Letter of James. James, son of Alphaeus, is also known as James the Lesser to avoid confusing him with James the son of Zebedee, also an apostle and known as James the Greater. 
<p><b>Philip:</b> Philip came from the same town as Peter and Andrew, Bethsaida in Galilee. Jesus called him directly, whereupon he sought out Nathanael and told him of the “one about whom Moses wrote” (John 1:45). </p><p>Like the other apostles, Philip took a long time coming to realize who Jesus was. On one occasion, when Jesus saw the great multitude following him and wanted to give them food, he asked Philip where they should buy bread for the people to eat. St. John comments, “[Jesus] said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do” (John 6:6). Philip answered, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little [bit]” (John 6:7). </p><p>John’s story is not a put-down of Philip. It was simply necessary for these men who were to be the foundation stones of the Church to see the clear distinction between humanity’s total helplessness apart from God and the human ability to be a bearer of divine power by God’s gift. </p><p>On another occasion, we can almost hear the exasperation in Jesus’ voice. After Thomas had complained that they did not know where Jesus was going, Jesus said, “I am the way...If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6a, 7). Then Philip said, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Enough! Jesus answered, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9a). </p><p>Possibly because Philip bore a Greek name or because he was thought to be close to Jesus, some Gentile proselytes came to him and asked him to introduce them to Jesus. Philip went to Andrew, and Andrew went to Jesus. Jesus’ reply in John’s Gospel is indirect; Jesus says that now his “hour” has come, that in a short time he will give his life for Jew and Gentile alike.</p> American Catholic Blog Only in human weakness do many of us begin to rely on God and explicitly repudiate our own divine ambitions. Every pain alerts us to the fact that we are not the Almighty.


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