Religious intolerance in the Holy Land is on the rise and the desecration of churches is becoming more common – but Church leaders are determined to launch large-scale initiatives to help young people discover the riches of their faith.
Activities will include catechism classes for children and summer festivals with concerts and prayers for more than 200 youths.
A combination of sports and religious education events are also being planned, where young people will play basketball and learn from Catholic coaches who will give testimony of their spiritual lives.
With Christians in the Holy Land affected by increasing extremism, young people are abandoning the Church, according to George Akroush, director of the project development office at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Mr Akroush told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which is funding the project: “We must be brave enough to admit that in the past there was no real pastoral work but it was rather sporadic and fragmented with the youth groups, which are the future of our Church community.
“The Patriarchate is aware of this, and with the support of ACN we will launch a strategic programme targeting all the youth groups in Jordan, Palestine and Israel, including the Vicariate for Migrants and Asylum Seekers and the Hebrew-speaking congregation.”
Mr Akroush said that the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem hopes to reform school curricula to help fight extremism.
He explained: “Despite our tiny number, less than 1 percent, we still serve 40 percent of the Palestinian people.
“The Church runs almost 200 schools in Palestine, Israel and in Jordan, and they teach hundreds of thousands of people.
“Despite all the challenges the Church is facing, the best schools, the best hospitals and the best institutions serving people with disabilities, orphans, the elderly and refugees, are all Christian.”
He added that these schools have the duty to teach the new generation “to be more tolerant, more accepting, and to instil in them the Christian values of love, tolerance and acceptance”.
ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World Report 2023 found an increase since last year in discrimination against Christians, who make up only 2 percent of Israel’s population – with 60 percent of them belonging to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
Mr Akroush also underlined the challenges of carrying out pastoral projects against a backdrop of growing fundamentalism and hopelessness in Palestine, especially in Gaza.
Last month, Cardinal-elect Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa highlighted a rise in vandalism of Christian buildings and verbal abuse against clergy in the Holy Land, amid increased societal tensions following renewed hostilities between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in May.