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

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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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Bruno: This saint has the honor of having founded a religious order which, as the saying goes, has never had to be reformed because it was never deformed. No doubt both the founder and the members would reject such high praise, but it is an indication of the saint's intense love of a penitential life in solitude. 
<p>Bruno was born in Cologne, Germany, became a famous teacher at Rheims and was appointed chancellor of the archdiocese at the age of 45. He supported Pope Gregory VII in his fight against the decadence of the clergy and took part in the removal of his own scandalous archbishop, Manasses. Bruno suffered the plundering of his house for his pains. </p><p>He had a dream of living in solitude and prayer, and persuaded a few friends to join him in a hermitage. After a while he felt the place unsuitable and, through a friend, was given some land which was to become famous for his foundation "in the Chartreuse" (from which comes the word Carthusians). The climate, desert, mountainous terrain and inaccessibility guaranteed silence, poverty and small numbers. </p><p>Bruno and his friends built an oratory with small individual cells at a distance from each other. They met for Matins and Vespers each day and spent the rest of the time in solitude, eating together only on great feasts. Their chief work was copying manuscripts. </p><p>The pope, hearing of Bruno's holiness, called for his assistance in Rome. When the pope had to flee Rome, Bruno pulled up stakes again, and spent his last years (after refusing a bishopric) in the wilderness of Calabria. </p><p>He was never formally canonized, because the Carthusians were averse to all occasions of publicity. However Pope Clement X extended his feast to the whole Church in 1674.</p> American Catholic Blog The saints in heaven love and care for us, and so it is fitting that we pray to them and ask for their prayers, as we on earth assist one another through prayer.

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