Israel’s Expanding Christian Population

November 8, 2016 | Sara Toth Stub
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Even as the proportion of Christians among Palestinians and Israeli Arabs has shrunk, the Jewish state’s Christian population has been steadily rising due to an influx of foreign workers and refugees from the Philippines, Eritrea, Sudan, and elsewhere. Abandoned churches have been restored to use, clergy have begun to conduct services in a variety of languages, and Catholics have even begun to celebrate Sunday mass on Friday and Saturday mornings to accommodate the Israeli work week. Sara Toth Stub writes:

The influx of Christian migrant workers from places like the Philippines is not a phenomenon unique to Israel; it is occurring across the Middle East. Of the ten countries in which Christianity is experiencing its most rapid growth, six are Muslim states in the Middle East. . . . In places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the number of Christians is expanding at a rate of more than nine percent per year due to the influx of migrant workers. . . .
In places like Saudi Arabia, where there is no freedom of religion, migrants are forced to gather in secret to worship. But in other countries, like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, officials have allowed the construction of churches in certain places. This is all happening as other places in the region, mainly Iraq and Syria, have seen continuing violence against Christians that has driven out entire communities. . . .

In Israel, this influx has resulted in a fusion of identities, especially among those migrants who have been here for many years. It is even more pronounced among their Hebrew-speaking children.

Take, for instance, Gina Canlas, a Filipina who met her Turkish Muslim boyfriend in Israel and is raising their son as a Catholic:

Canlas, who has temporary residency status in Israel, speaks mainly Hebrew with her boyfriend and son. She said she feels comfortable as a Catholic in Tel Aviv. “In Israel you can do what you want,” Canlas said. “I don’t feel oppressed. It’s a liberated and open country.”

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