Archbishop warns of vanishing Christian communities

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Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams warned Tuesday that Christian communities in the Middle East were in danger of vanishing, as he launched an appeal for funds to help.

"The overall decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land has been very significant in recent decades and it is accelerating in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem very rapidly," he said.

"The number of Christians in Israel itself remains steady, but we still face the not too distant prospect elsewhere, especially in East Jerusalem, of the disappearance of most of the historic Christian communities.

"Communities that have been there, in some cases, since the days of our Lord."

Williams, the head of the worldwide Anglican church, was launching an appeal for funds for Christian community projects at a meeting of the General Synod in York, northern England.

"I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there," he said.

His call was supported by Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic in England and Wales.

"People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say that the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance... not just its historical reality, but to its present and future viability," Nichols said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned in January that Christian minorities in the Middle East were victims of "religious cleansing", following deadly attacks on churches in the region.

© 2011 AFP

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