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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, are jointly hosting a conference on Christians in the Holy Land next week.
The gathering will take place at Lambeth Palace on 18-19 July 2011 and I am honoured to be taking part.
In advance of that, I have recorded another podcast on the background to the meeting - and the issues facing Christians in the region - courtesy, once more, of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/files/holy-land-conference-2011.mp3)
Christian presence and witness in what is called the Holy Land (basically, for these purposes, Israel and Palestine) is important because this is the place where the biblical story began, and our ongoing responsibility towards the 'living stones' in the region remains to this day.
The statistics may go up and down, according to different assessments, but the reality is that the numbers of indigenous Arab Palestinian Christians from historic communities in the region has dwindled significantly in recent decades. On the other hand, there have been other Christians from Russia and Eastern Europe coming in. This is why the figures go up and down.
But statistics is an inexact art in this context, and the ethos of the Christian faith does not finally depend upon numbers, but upon the quality of the witness given. This is what needs reinforcing and supporting by all of us.
Lay people and students from Bethlehem University in the West Bank, reconciling Palestinians and Jews from 'One Voice', Christians from Jerusalem - they too will be present at Lambeth, alongside senior church leaders. So this will be an opportunity to hear from the rich and diverse range of perspectives within what we singularly call 'the Holy Land'.
My reflections on these and other issues, including four key strands which we might be able to discern in the gathering, are recorded on the MP3 podcast link below. It will be fascinating to see how the meeting proceeds and what comes out of it.
© Harry Hagopian is an international lawyer, ecumenist and EU political consultant. He also acts as a Middle East and inter-faith advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and as Middle East consultant to ACEP (Christians in Politics) in Paris. He is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/HarryHagopian). Formerly an Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee and Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches, he is consultant to the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (UK) and author of The Armenian Church in the Holy Land. Dr Hagopian’s own website is www.epektasis.net