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In the land where Jesus lived, Christians say their dwindling numbers are turning churches from places of worship into museums. And when Christian pilgrims come from all over the world to visit the places of Christ's birth, death and resurrection, they find them divided by a concrete wall. (Photo: Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal at a checkpoint in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 24, 2009/Ammar Awad)
Members of the Abu al-Zulaf family, Palestinian Christians, have left the hills and olive groves of their village near Bethlehem for Sweden and the United States, seeking a better life than that on offer in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Ayman Abu al-Zulaf, 41, moved to France in 1998. But he returned to Beit Sahour, the village where he was born, a year later. "I needed to be here, not in France," he said. "Without Christians, the Holy Land, the land of Jesus, has no value."
Today, Christians make up just 1 percent of the mainly Muslim population of the Palestinian territories, said Hanna Eissa, who is in charge of Christian affairs in the Palestinian Authority's religious affairs ministry. In 1920, they were a tenth of the population of Palestine -- land where today Israel exists alongside the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Minarets and church towers mingle on Cairo's skyline, but tensions mar Egypt's record of religious coexistence and a perception of growing intolerance is leading some Christians to shun their Muslim compatriots.
Amira Helmy, from a middle-class area of the capital, was brought up by a Muslim neighbour after her mother died and attended a state school alongside Muslim children. "Most of my friends were Muslims. We used to go on outings together and some would call to me from below my house so we could walk to school," recalls Helmy with a smile.
With Christianity dwindling in its Middle Eastern birthplace, Pope Benedict has convened Catholic bishops from the region to debate how to save its minority communities and promote harmony with their Muslim neighbours.
For two weeks starting on Sunday, the bishops will discuss problems for the faithful ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and strife in Iraq to radical Islamism, economic crisis and the divisions among the region's many Christian churches.
Franciscan Father David Jaeger is one of the Roman Catholic Church's most authoritative experts on the Middle East. Until a few weeks ago, he was the delegate of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land in Rome. A convert from Judaism who became a Roman Catholic priest in 1986, he is a noted canon lawyer. He was part of the Vatican team that negotiated diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994 and is part of the Vatican team that is still ironing out the final subsidiary details of that accord. He spoke to Reuters and Reuters Television about the upcoming Mideast synod in the atrium of Antonianum University in Rome. Here is a transcript of parts of the conversation.
What do you expect from the synod?
I think it is intended to be a very significant step forward in the development of the witness of the Church in the Middle East. Synods are convened not simply, or not necessarily, in response to a current affairs concerns but as a moment for the Church to grow, in faithfulness and in effectiveness of witness.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Muslims must obey the constitution and not sharia law if they want to live in Germany, which is debating the integration of its 4 million-strong Muslim population.
In the furore following a German central banker's blunt comments about Muslims failing to integrate, moderate leaders including President Christian Wulff have urged Germans to accept that "Islam also belongs in Germany."
(Photo: Family and friends mourn a Christian student killed in attack on Iraq's Christian minority in Mosul, May 11, 2010/Khalid al-Mousuly)
Bassam Hermiz has slashed prices to clear his stock of electrical appliances, close his shop and join many thousands of other Iraqi Christians abroad. Once numbering some 750,000 in this mainly Muslim country of 30 million, Christians have been trapped in the crossfire of sectarian strife ignited after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's secular dictatorship in 2003.
Alarmed that their flock could face extinction, Iraqi Christian leaders appealed to the Vatican for help. Pope Benedict, also worried about the shrinking Christian presence in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, has called a synod of bishops for October 10-24 to discuss how churches can work together to preserve Christianity's oldest communities.
(Photo: Tea Party member Ellie Mels at a Tea Party Fair in Charlotte, Michigan July 24, 2010/Rebecca Cook)
Many supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement that has shaken up politics share the same views as the Christian right on social issues like abortion and the role of religion in public life, according to a poll released on Tuesday.
While the loosely organized Tea Party movement has focused largely on shrinking the size of government and other fiscal issues, its backers are more likely to support government restrictions on gay marriage and other social issues, the Public Religion Research Institute found in its American Values Survey.
Two Christian men on trial in Algeria for eating during daylight in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan were acquitted on Tuesday, a verdict their supporters said was a triumph for religious freedom.
The two men, members of Algeria's small Protestant community, were charged with offending public morals for eating at the building site where they were working before the Ramadan fast had been broken for the day.
In vitro fertilization (IVF), the pioneering technique that won Robert Edwards the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine, opened up a wealth of scientific options and a Pandora's box of ethical dilemmas.
Edwards's success in fertilizing a human egg outside of the womb led not only to "test tube babies" but also to innovations such as embryonic stem cell research and surrogate motherhood.
(Photo: An imam leads prayers at a mosque in Dortmund on German Unity Day, October 3, 2010./Ina Fassbender)
German President Christian Wulff said Sunday that Islam had a place in Germany, during a speech celebrating two decades of the country's reunification.
The president, who holds a largely ceremonial position but is considered a moral authority for the nation, used the televised ceremony to wade into a debate over immigrant integration that has captivated public attention for weeks.