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HomeChurch and MinistryPilgrims Gathering Increases in World’s Oldest Church as Palestinian Congregation Grow Smaller

Pilgrims Gathering Increases in World’s Oldest Church as Palestinian Congregation Grow Smaller

An ancient church, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank town of Burqin, continues to draw thousands of Christian pilgrims every year. It was built over a cave more than 1,600 years ago to honor a miracle performed by Jesus. 

Despite the influx of visitors, the congregation of the Church of the Ten Lepers is dwindling. The church’s own Palestinian Christian community has been facing difficulties for years, including political and economic instability, as well as a steady stream of emigration.

The church, adorned with golden icons and frescoes, sits atop the cave where Jesus is said to have healed ten lepers. According to the New Testament, Jesus met the ten lepers on his way to Jerusalem and told them to show themselves to the priests. As they were walking, they were miraculously healed, and only one of them, a Samaritan, returned to thank Jesus.

The original church on the site was built in the fourth century, and the current structure dates back to the 1860s. The church is a popular pilgrimage site for Christians, who come from all over the world to pray, light candles, and seek blessings.

Despite its importance to Christians, the Church of the Ten Lepers is facing challenges. The Palestinian Christian community, which makes up the majority of the church’s congregation, has been shrinking in recent years. The community has been struggling with political instability and economic hardships, and many families have been forced to emigrate in search of a better life.

Moeen Jabbour, the administrative manager, said: “In Palestine, we face several difficulties, including (Israeli) occupation and the economic situation… There are no jobs, so (our youth)… move elsewhere,” he said. “This is why Christian presence is shrinking in this town.”

The situation is not unique to the Church of the Ten Lepers. Palestinian Christians have been facing difficulties for years, including discrimination, economic hardships, and political instability. According to the Palestinian Authority, the Christian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has decreased from 15% to 1.2% over the past century.

The Church of the Ten Lepers remains an important site for Christians, and many continue to make pilgrimages to the church each year. The church is a testament to the enduring faith of Palestinian Christians, who have faced centuries of hardship and persecution, yet continue to hold on to their beliefs and traditions.

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