Pilgrimages a 'Christian Disneyland'

The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned of the vulnerability of Christian communities in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Dr Rowan Williams said British Christians need to do more to support the continued sustainability of groups in the West Bank.

Speaking at the Conference on Christians in the Holy Land, attended by 60 Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and hosted jointly with Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, Dr Williams said pilgrimages must not be "just a tourist venture" or become a "Christian Disneyland".

Dr Williams said the comments were not intended as anti-Israel sentiment, but were aimed at encouraging people to make life "more bearable" for Palestinian Christians.

Christian numbers in Israel have shrunk to two per cent

He said: "We are looking for a bit of a step change that will allow us to identify and support specific projects more effectively."

He launched an appeal to help raise funds earlier this month.

Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell highlighted the difficulties facing Christians travelling between Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jerusalem, and said the British government was concerned about the future viability of the Christian community in the Holy Land.

A spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in London contradicted the Archbishop's comments. He said: "Christians in Israel are a flourishing community, fully integrated into Israeli life. We join the calls for other nations in the region to act on this, and hope that they copy the Israeli model on accommodating religious minorities."

Christian communities in Israel and the Palestinian territories are diminishing. In 1950 Christians made up 15 per cent of the population. That figure has now shrunk to just two per cent, with many facing persecution in Gaza and intolerance in the West Bank. Last Christmas 100,000 Christians celebrated in Bethlehem, the biggest turn-out for a decade.

    Last updated: 12:56pm, July 28 2011