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Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, a Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, said the Christian community is in danger of dying out in Nazareth as immigration increases, Voice of America reports.

By Michael Lipin 
6/1/2011 Israel (Voice of America) – A senior Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land says the Christian community is in danger of dying out in Nazareth, an Israeli Arab city where Christians believe Jesus spent his youth. Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo says many of Nazareth’s minority Christians began emigrating more than a decade ago largely because of tensions with local Islamists who tried to build a mosque next to the city’s main church. Israel terminated the mosque project in 2003 and Nazareth has been calm ever since. But, Bishop Marcuzzo says several threats remain to one of the region’s oldest Christian communities, whose first church was built in the 5th century AD.

Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo says the emigration of Christians from the Israeli Arab city of Nazareth is endangering the survival of the Christian community in a place of biblical importance to Christianity.

The bishop says the main cause of that emigration is a campaign by Islamists to boost their political power in Nazareth at the expense of Christians and moderate Muslims.

“Our problem is not religious, but it’s the political situation of insecurity, of non-peace, of non-justice, of non-equality among the people,” said Marcuzzo.

Tensions erupted in 1997 when Islamists set up a prayer tent near Nazareth’s Basilica of the Annunciation, located where Christians believe an angel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus.

The Islamists’ goal was to establish a large, permanent mosque at the site, which houses a shrine to Shihab e-Din, a nephew of 12th century Muslim warrior Saladin. Christians in Nazareth and abroad objected, fearing such a mosque would block access to the Basilica and disrupt Christian services.

Christian leaders lobbied for the site to be developed into a plaza for tourists. That idea angered some Islamists, who rioted in Nazareth on Easter Sunday in 1999, smashing Christian-owned cars and shops.

“For us, that problem caused the reaction of many families who wanted to go away, because life became difficult here in Nazareth in those days, in those years,” stated Marcuzzo.

Islamists built foundations for the mosque near the Basilica with approval from Israeli authorities, but local and international criticism of the project led Israel’s government to scrap it in 2003.

Eight years later, an Islamist organization called Jama’at Ansar Allah, or the “Supporters of Allah,” still conducts weekly outdoor prayers at the shrine. It also erected a large banner in the area with an English quote from the Koran. The message reads, “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.” Bishop Marcuzzo says displaying that sign in full view of Christian pilgrims is provocative and the church is trying to have it removed.

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