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Church in Israel faces 'complete crisis,' Jerusalem vicar reports

February 19, 2016

The Catholic Church faces a “complete crisis” in Israel, because of financial pressures and new pressure from local government officials, the vicar general of the Jerusalem patriarchate told the AsiaNews service.

Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo said that some local officials are pressing Catholic churches to pay administrative taxes—which were never asked of churches when the region was controlled by the Ottoman empire. Some municipal officials, he said, have blocked the accounts of Catholic churches and religious orders. He noted that since “bills are taken directly from bank accounts which are currently blocked, we risk finding ourselves with nothing, not even electricity or gas ... nothing.

The plight of the Church is worsened, Bishop Marcuzzo said, because the year 2015 saw a sharp drop in the number of pilgrims visiting the Holy Land; the figure was down nearly 30% from the previous year.

That decline in the number of visitors is damaging for three reasons. First, the local churches do not receive the financial support that pilgrims bring. Second, the Christians living in the Holy Land lose business, since “nearly 30% of Christians work in this sector: in tourism and pilgrimages.” Third, the slump in the number of visitors seems to imply a downturn in support for the Christians of the Holy Land.

Bishop Marcuzzo urged Christians in the Western world to visit the Holy Land, saying that they should not be frightened away by the prospects of conflict there. “Jews and Muslims consider the pilgrim a person in search of God and respect him,” he said; “so people should not be afraid.”

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