Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Christians Leaving Traditional Cana

From the AP:

KUFR KANA, Israel – In this small Galilee town where tradition says Jesus turned water to wine, an ambitious priest hopes to perform his own miracle — revive a shrinking flock.

Father Masoud Abu Hatoum, nicknamed "the bulldozer" for his enthusiasm, has come up with a few ideas, like re-enacting the New Testament story of Jesus transforming the water for guests at a wedding in the Galilee hamlet of Cana, now this northern Israeli town of Kufr Kana.

"We have to attract people," said Abu Hatoum, who looks as much rock star as priest with his trim beard and large wrap-around sunglasses.

But he will have a tough time slowing the hemorrhage of Christians from this bleak, economically depressed town, as the young move away to cities like nearby Nazareth, which offer bigger Christian communities, more jobs and better marriage prospects.

"Our youths leave the village, they tell us: 'We don't want to die here.' We get old, and they leave," said 65-year-old Said Saffouri, a parishioner whose two sons have moved out of town.

Migration and low birth rates have diminished Christian populations across the Middle East. Israel's community of 123,000 Arab Christians is one of the few in the region whose numbers have held steady — it grew slightly by 2,000 in 2009. But it does face a problem of rural flight to big cities, which leaves traditional small Christian towns like Kufr Kana to waste away.

Kufr Kana was entirely Christian at the beginning of the 20th century, but Muslims began settling in the village first as traders, and then as refugees fleeing fighting during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, locals said. Now the village is home to 16,000 Muslims and 4,000 Christians.

The story continues here.  The Cana where Jesus changed water into wine is more likely at Khirbet Kana.  For an analysis of the options, see this chapter from the dissertation of J. Carl Laney.

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