28 March 2020, The Tablet

Remember the land of Christ's birth, says bishop

The total number of Covid-19 cases in Palestinian territories hit 60 on Tues, of which 58 are in the West Bank.

Remember the land of Christ's birth, says bishop

A man walks inside the closed Church of Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on March 24, 2020.
unreguser/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

An English Bishop has called for Catholics to pray for Christians in the Holy Land dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the economic problems that have resulted from the closure of many pilgrimage sites.

Bishop Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton and chair of the Holy Land Coordination, raised his concerns about the “devastating” impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the Holy Land.

Bishop Lang said: “As we approach Easter amid this global pandemic, we must not forget the impact on our sisters and brothers in the land of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection."

Palestine, which contains around 50,000 Christians, reported its first coronavirus-related death on Wednesday 25 March. A 60-year-old patient with underlying health issues died in the occupied West Bank,  according to a Palestinian government offIcial. 82 cases have been diagnosed in the Palestinian territories so far in the outbreak, and 17 patients have recovered from the virus. As of Sunday 22 March, the Palestinian government has ordered a 14-day ‘lockdown’ on non-essential movement and gatherings.

In Israel, which has a Christian population of around 150,000, more than 3,000 people have been confirmed as infected by the coronavirus, and twelve deaths have resulted from infection. Although the majority of cases have been mild, the Israeli government has also placed heavy restrictions on gathering and movement, with schools, universities and recreational facilities all ordered to close.

As well as the threat to the physical welfare of Christians in Palestine and Israel, the closure of many popular pilgrimage sites in order to limit infection has hit Palestinian Christians hard.

The entire town of Bethlehem, Christ’s birthplace, has been placed into quarantine after several cases of the virus were diagnosed in residents.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, reputed to hold Christ’s tomb, was shut Wednesday 25 March, as part of the Israeli government’s closure of all religious sites.

The virtual halt of tourism to the region is a significant threat to the financial welfare of Palestinian Christians, who are heavily reliant on the revenue pilgrims to holy sites bring to the region. Bishop Lang has urged Catholics to offer solidarity to Christians in the Holy Land through “prayer, support for the Friends of the Holy Land appeal and contributions to other humanitarian agencies working on the ground.”

The increase in Covid-19 cases in the Gaza Strip – from two cases earlier in the week to nine by Thursday – has been of particular concern for the Bishop.

Economically deprived Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas on earth, has a healthcare system that has already, the Bishop argues “effectively collapsed”.  In 2017, a UN report predicted there would be a shortage of 1,000 hospital beds and 1,000 doctors by this year.

Bishop Lang views the entry of the coronavirus pandemic to the territory, inhabited by over two million Palestinians, as “an impending humanitarian catastrophe”.

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