To stop the Christian population from dwindling, Bishop Shomali told the charity Aid to the Church in Need, prayer is the only solution, because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "incurable" and requires God's help.
Describing how Palestinian Christians suffer from the same problems affecting all those living in the Palestinian territories, such as lack of work and restrictions on movement, the 62-year-old bishop said the situation in the town of Christ’s birth is particularly dire: "In Bethlehem, people suffer on welfare. Thirty percent of young people have no work."
"However," he added, "the more pilgrimages there are, the more the tourist industry functions, and then the more work there is to be had.
“Last month for example, there were several thousand pilgrims."
"Peace creates a very positive atmosphere," Bishop Shomali reflected. "Without it, there is insecurity and the economic situation becomes precarious. Then, work must be created."
Called to witness
Echoing Benedict XVI's exhortation "Ecclesia in Medio Oriente," the bishop declared that Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories are called to be witnesses to their faith.
"Spiritual encouragement and holding on to faith are of the greatest importance because being Christian in the Holy Land is not issuing from a simple coincidence -- it is a vocation," he said. "If the Christians consider it a privilege to be born in the Holy Land and have a testimony of faith to share, they will be motivated and this spiritual motivation is worth more than all material motivations."
Bishop Shomali also stressed that only God can provide the lasting peace the region needs.
"I continue to say to my pilgrims that in human terms there is no solution for the Israeli-Palestinian problem, for the nature of the problem is ideological," he explained. "And so, in this Year of Faith, we must know that nothing is impossible for God. No, nothing is impossible for God.
“In general terms we pray when we cannot do for ourselves the things we want to do.
“For example, if I am suffering from an incurable illness, I ask God to help me, and I know that God can perform miracles.
“And so, this conflict is incurable and that is why we must believe that prayer can attain peace, despite all appearances, for God can surprise us as he often has in the history of the Church and in the history of humanity."