In Israel, the Christian community largely thrives, regularly outperforming Jews and Muslims in education. But that is not the case in Palestinian-controlled areas. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, Christians have declined from about 70 percent of the population a few decades ago to only 15 percent today.
The papal trip should also shed light on the Vatican’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pope Francis arrives in the Jewish state following a breakdown in peace talks, with the Palestinian leadership taking unilateral steps in the international arena and forming a unity government with the terrorist group Hamas.
One of the Vatican’s biggest concerns in the region is Islamic fundamentalism, which has led to increased attacks on the region’s Christians. Vatican officials feel that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could indirectly reduce the persecution of Christians.
But such a linkage between the peace process and the region’s instability has been strongly disputed by Israeli leaders.
— Supplemental reporting by Sean Savage, JNS