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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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Eusebius of Vercelli: Someone has said that if there had been no Arian heresy denying Christ's divinity, it would be very difficult to write the lives of many early saints. Eusebius is another of the defenders of the Church during one of its most trying periods. 
<p>Born on the isle of Sardinia, he became a member of the Roman clergy and is the first recorded bishop of Vercelli in Piedmont in northwest Italy. He is also the first to link the monastic life with that of the clergy, establishing a community of his diocesan clergy on the principle that the best way to sanctify his people was to have them see a clergy formed in solid virtue and living in community. </p><p>He was sent by Pope Liberius to persuade the emperor to call a council to settle Catholic-Arian troubles. When it was called at Milan, Eusebius went reluctantly, sensing that the Arian block would have its way, although the Catholics were more numerous. He refused to go along with the condemnation of St. Athanasius; instead, he laid the Nicene Creed on the table and insisted that all sign it before taking up any other matter. The emperor put pressure on him, but Eusebius insisted on Athanasius’ innocence and reminded the emperor that secular force should not be used to influence Church decisions. At first the emperor threatened to kill him, but later sent him into exile in Palestine. There the Arians dragged him through the streets and shut him up in a little room, releasing him only after his four-day hunger strike. They resumed their harassment shortly after. </p><p>His exile continued in Asia Minor and Egypt, until the new emperor permitted him to be welcomed back to his see in Vercelli. He attended the Council of Alexandria with Athanasius and approved the leniency shown to bishops who had wavered. He also worked with St. Hilary of Poitiers against the Arians. </p><p>He died peacefully in his own diocese at an advanced age.</p> American Catholic Blog We become more like Jesus, not just by imitating what He ate, but by eating His very Flesh and Blood in the Eucharist.


 
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