- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

JERUSALEM, Jan. 16 (UPI) — Some 2,000 of the 50,000 Christians who live in Israel and the occupied territories have left since the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, began, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah said Thursday.

They left because they felt insecure, he told reporters at a press conference that summarized a meeting of bishops from Europe and North America. The Christian leaders met in Jerusalem to discuss efforts to support Christians in the Holy Land since violence resurged two years ago.

Sabbah criticized the departures. "It is a time of sacrifice in order to get back one's own freedom and dignity … so everyone should accept the price imposed to gain freedom," he declared.

The patriarch said he did not fear "for the future of the church. Some leave and some remain. Those who remain, remain with all their faith, all their conviction that they have to remain."

The vice president of Catholic Bishops' Conference in England and Wales, Archbishop Patrick Kelly, the vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop William Skylstad and other participants pledged in a joint message to the Christians in the Holy Land, "to work without ceasing to help sustain you."

They deliberately avoided political issues so as not to seem to support any side, however.

Sabbah nevertheless got into an argument with Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who insisted there would be no peace as long as there is terrorism.

Sabbah said he replied, "If we have terrorists, we have a cause for that. …If the cause of violence is the oppression, you take away the oppression, you will have no more violence."

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