The changing face of Christianity in the Holy Land

It’s a face that is increasingly diverse, and foreign-born, according to his report from the AP:

The schedules for Mass at the two Roman Catholic churches in Jaffa, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, reveal a change that has dramatically, if quietly, altered the face of Christianity in the Holy Land.

The two Masses in Arabic for the town’s native Arab Christian population are outnumbered by four in English, attended mainly by Filipina caregivers. Then there are others in Spanish, for South Americans; French, for African migrants; three South Asian languages, including Konkani, spoken in the Indian district of Goa; and, for a generation of Christians raised among Israel’s Jewish majority, Hebrew.

In September, a colorful celebration for Indian Catholics alone drew 2,000 people. That’s twice the total number of native Catholics in the parish.

For centuries, Christianity here meant the ancient communities of Christian Arabs. They were here when Israel was created around them in 1948, and they have kept their distinct identity within the Jewish state since. The past two decades, however, have seen one of the most significant influxes of Christians into the Holy Land since the Crusades, and it has created a wholly new Christian landscape shaped by the realities of Israel.

The newcomers include guest workers from dozens of different countries who provide the economy with cheap labor, and asylum-seekers from Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere in Africa who sneak across the border from Egypt. And for the first time, there is a significant population of non-Arab Christian Israeli citizens, mainly immigrants from the former Soviet Union who, unlike Arabs, are fully assimilated into the Jewish Israeli mainstream.

Their presence has created new challenges for local churches that are simultaneously, like churches across the Mideast, facing the uncertain future of their local flocks.

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Comments

  1. This is the saddest thing to me. During my two visits to Israel, I was startled to find so few masses in the first place… So many tour groups arrive with a priest and have their own masses and I was on my own both times.

    And the Palestinian Christians, so few in number now, really have so little to grasp on to. While many of us posit our thoughts about Israel vs. the Palestinian Authority, the reality is that almost no one takes into consideration the Palestinian Christians. They are abandoned by and large by both Israel and the Arab people. It is so sad.

  2. Amy Rustand says:

    The Mass in vernacular languages seems to be abetting this disunity among them. A return to Latin in Mass could help this situation.

  3. Henry Karlson says:

    Amy

    No, a return to the “Latin in Mass” would not fix anything. Among other things, in the Holy Land it has been very diverse for centuries — including many non-Latin Rites having significant value and authority there. Second, even in the history of the “Latin Mass,” ethnic diversity was quite strong — in the US, it was stamped out by mostly the Irish, to a major deficit (imo) of the Catholic traditions which were removed. Third, what really is causing disunity is the ignorance of the traditional Christians in the Holy Land by the West, allowing Israel to help remove and destroy them, while the West sends in outsiders to help Israel while making a new presence for themselves. That is the problem. The lack of support for historical Christians in the Holy Land.

  4. To Henry’s point – Latin was once the vernacular when Greek fell into disuse. So ultimately, having the mass offered in Latin, would be to have it in the vernacular. And Latin was never the language of the Holy Land. Greek, Aramaic, early Hebrew – yes. Latin, no, not even during Roman occupation at the time of and immediately following the Resurrection.

    The people of this region, the Palestinian Christians need many things, I would not think, although I could be wrong, that a Latin mass would be among them.

  5. Deacon Norb says:

    Amy #2

    To follow-up:

    From @ 220 BC until @ 400 AD, the universal language of the entire Mediterranean Basin (from Portugal to India) was Greek.

    From @ 400 AD until a window of 1100-1400 AD, Latin was also the universal language of the Mediterranean. It still was used in restricted sections of high society in England as late as 1900 (for instance, university lectures at Oxford and Cambridge stopped being held in Latin just before World War I). One could argue that spoken Latin fairly much ceased any significant oral usage at the end of Vatican II.

    From 1850 AD (and certainly since 1945 and the end of World War II) English has become the worldwide universal language.

    NOW, small local pockets of cultures still spoke languages unique to them. Aramaic was the language of the Jordan Valley from @ 400 BC and remains so to the present among the Palestinian Christians. Latin was started in a small section of the Italian peninsula well before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth but it was a “vulgar” illiterate and very localized language until Julius Caesar started using it in his “Gallic Wars” a few years before Jesus’ birth. It did not really spread around until the time of Jerome and his Biblia Vulgata.

    Jesus of Nazareth spoke Aramaic and Greek

    Simon Peter spoke Aramaic but his Greek was so inadequate that his scribe John Mark (the evangelist) acted as his “interpreter.”

    Paul spoke both Aramaic and Greek (some scholars also say he was fluent in the spoken liturgical Hebrew of his era — I do not). He did not speak Latin at all.
    ____________

    That’s some of this history but the point the other contributors have made is important. Latin was NEVER a significant spoken language of the Jordan Valley.

  6. \\Third, what really is causing disunity is the ignorance of the traditional Christians in the Holy Land by the West,\\

    Amen! You mad my point exactly.

    I would urge all people to read BLOOD BROTHERS by Elias Chacour, now Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Nazareth.

    May I also point out that Eastern Catholics in the Holy Land and elsewhere, and even more so Orthodox and Non-Chalcedonians are not merely Roman Catholics who say mass funny.

    Finally, the Pope’s prayer intention for this November is that the spiritual traditions of Eastern Catholics will become a joy and inspiration for Latin Catholics.

  7. To the best of my knowledge, only the Latin Rite calls its Liturgy “the Mass”, so a discussion about other traditions is really a red herring.

  8. Deacon Norb, I would be surprised of St. Paul did not speak some Latin. Most educated people of the period–and no one can doubt his erudition–spoke both languages.

    From what I’ve read, while Hebrew was not a spoken vernacular in the 1st century, it was a literary language.

  9. Deacon Norb says:

    Re Jack #8:

    I did hear some scholar insisting that Paul spoke Latin. His logic was:

    –Paul was a trained military officer.

    –Julius Caesar knew Latin and was a major military officer

    –Therefore: All military officers in First Century Rome knew Latin.

    The fallacies are abundant.

    –Julius Caesar knew Latin but anyone raised in the central belt of the Italian peninsula would have known Latin because it was the language of the common uneducated classes at that time. You could not talk to your household slaves unless you knew Latin; but you certainly did not speak Latin in sophisticated company. Nor did you speak it with international guests. That did not happen until three and a half centuries after Paul was executed.

    —-Paul was never a Roman military officer — no devout Jew would ever become one because the Torah forbad devout Jews from fighting on the Sabbath — nor was he raised as a youngster in that central belt of the Italian Peninsula but in Tarsus — modern day Turkey.

    As far as Paul knowing liturgical Hebrew — the question boils down to whether or not only the Levitical priests of that era really knew spoken/conversational Hebrew. Some folks I have talked to about this suggest that every Jewish male had to know at least some superficial Hebrew in order to complete their first century equivalent of the “Bar Mitzvah.”

    I am not that sure. There is some serious question whether the scrolls of the typical Synagogues of the first century Jordan Valley were written in ancient Hebrew or more contemporary Aramaic. But even if they were written in ancient Hebrew, would not then the example of 1950′s Roman Catholicism in America fit: a lot of Roman Catholic folks knew a lot of words in Latin and could even recite passages from scripture on demand in Latin — from simply attending Sunday Mass — but could not speak it at all.

    Back to your assertion that all sophisticated people of that era spoke both Latin and Greek. I would agree but ONLY for those Roman Leaders born and raised in central Italia. Someone born in the southeast area of modern day Turkey would have had no reason to ever be exposed to it.

    By the way — that is my BIG objection to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” He has the Roman soldiers at the crucifixion speaking Latin — never happened!

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