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Getting to know the Christians of the Holy Land

In numbers

Minority. The Christians represent 2.4% of the population in Israel, 1% in Palestine and 4% in Jordan. Among them, the Catholics are the second largest community when it comes to the number of faithful, coming after the Greek Orthodox Church.


Diversity. If one zooms in a little more, one might observe that the Catholics in the Holy Land (Israel and Palestine) are constituted by a great diversity of communities of whom the major ones are:

  • The Arabic speakers: the local Arab community is predominantly Melkite (Greek Catholic) or Latin (Roman Catholic)

  • The "migrants": Catholic migrant workers coming from countries like the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, etc. They are mostly Latins. There are also asylum seekers mostly from Africa with some Eastern rite Catholics among them.

  • The Hebrew speakers: they are about one thousand in number and live in the Jewish Israeli milieu.

  • The men and woman religious: thirty male and seventy-two female religious congregations (about 2000 people in all) administer religious houses and convents in the Holy Land.

  • The pilgrims: About 630 000 people, 98% of them many Catholics visited the Holy Places where Jesus was born died and was resurrected in 2019.

Catholics of the Holy Land

Between diversity and unity

In communion with Rome, the Eastern Catholic Churches recognize the primacy spiritual authority of the Pope but preserve their own languages and liturgies, anchored in ancient traditions. Some information:

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The Greek Catholics

Catholics of the Byzantine rite, the Greek Melkite Catholics originated in a schism within the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch in 1724. At that time, one group of Christians chose to enter communion with the Holy See.

  • Number of faithful: 1.3 million of whom 700 000 live in the Middle East

  • Language of the liturgy: Arabic and Greek

  • Patriarch: H.B. Joseph Absi, resident in Damascus. In the Holy Land: Most Rev. Mgr Yasser Al-Ayyash, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem, and Most Rev. Mgr Youssef Matta, Archbishop of Acre.


The Latins

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem was established by the Crusaders (1099-1291) and the function of the Patriarch of the Latin rite was restored in 1847. Before that date, the Franciscans, appointed as custodians of the Holy Places by Pope Clement VI in the 14th century, were responsible for the pastoral care of the Latin faithful, the word Latin referring to the historical language of their liturgy.

  • Number of faithful: 1.3 billion of whom 2 million in the Middle East and 250 000 in the Holy Land (including the large migrant populations)

  • Language of liturgy: Arabic, other languages spoken by the faithful, and Latin in some Holy Places (Basilicas of the Holy Sepulcher and Nativity)

  • Patriarch: H. B Mgr Pierbattista Pizzaballa


The Maronites

The Maronite Church is a Christian community which originates mostly from Lebanon. It is in communion with the Holy See since 1182. It is the only Eastern Church that is entirely Catholic.  

  • Number of faithful: about 10 million in the world and about 10 000 in the Holy Land.

  • Language of the liturgy : mostly Arabic with a little Syriac.

  • Patriarch: Béchara Boutros Raï residing in Lebanon and represented by H.E. Mgr Moussa el-Hage in the Holy Land.

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The Syrian Catholics

The Syrian Catholics originate in a schism in the Syrian Orthodox Church in the 16th century, when one group entered communion with the Holy See. The community originates in Mesopotamia and the community is spread in Iraq, Syria, south east Turkey and the Holy Land. 

  • Number of faithful: about 175 000 of whom 100 000 in the Middle East with a few hundred in the Holy Land.

  • Language of the liturgy: Arabic and Syriac 

  • Patriarch: H.B Ignace Youssef III Younan, resident in Lebanon. Mgr Ephrem Semaan is the Bishop of the Exarchate of Jerusalem


The Armenian Catholics

The Armenian Catholic Church shares the same history and spiritual heritage with the Armenian Apostolic Church, from which it separated to enter communion with the Holy See in the 18th century.

  • Number of faithful: about 450 000 in the world and a few hundred in the Holy Land.

  • Language of the liturgy: Armenian

  • Patriarch: Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian. He resides in Lebanon


The Custody of the Holy Land

The Franciscans, or the Order of Friars Minor, of the Latin rite, are present in the Holy Land since the 13th century, after an encounter between Saint Francis of Assisi and the Sultan al-Kamil. Appointed custodians of the Holy Places by Pope Clement VI in 1342, they guarantee a Catholic presence in the majority of the sanctuaries and animate pastoral life in a number of parishes.

  • Number of brothers: about 250, from about thirty different nationalities

  • Language of the liturgy: Latin, Italian and Arabic in the local parishes

  • Custos: Francesco Patton, ofm

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