By Dyan Huey
In Israel, as in other countries of the Holy Land, countless individuals strive to pass along the precious jewel of their land and their faith to current and future generations through the living and the revisiting of its history.
They are the Christian Shopkeepers and their contribution is to provide this link through the distribution of holy items that depict Jesus and the saints in carvings, jewelry, paintings, icons, sculptures, weavings and words.
Integrity to detail and to the pursuit of excellence in the production of their goods is what the Catholic vendors battle to protect and pass long. They so want to represent the richness of their culture and their Church.
This is not just about their livelihood; it is their passion. It is how they share their history and their faith. Like any serious Christian institution, they are not in it to get rich. Actually, they want to make us rich.
In the Old City of Jerusalem, in the Christian Quarter, there are scant few Christian shopkeepers still in business. Some are newer; some have been in business a lifetime. Regardless, they are all being marginalized now, and their survival is closely linked to the rapidly declining population of Christians living there.
One particular shop has been owned and operated by one family for over 50 years.
The current owners have 3 teenage children with two in college. The family lives in the Old City and attends St. Saviors Parish, a magnificent Catholic church just up the alley from the shop.
He has been true to the vision and has always presented the finest of items and given a more -than- fair price on everything sold. He has even been known to give the items to a buyer on only the promise that the buyer will send a check by mail.
His family depends solely on the income from his shop and they, like others, have experienced a steady decline in revenues. However, due to recent turns of events, the situation has gotten even more dire.
Tourists have traditionally found his shop on their way in from the New Gate heading toward the Holy Sepulchre, but the tourism routes have shifted to the Jaffa Gate now and he says as a result “the revenues have fallen sharply.”
He also shared that he has experienced increased competition from the new hotels’ gift shops that are more expensive but more convenient. In addition, he cannot take credit cards because they cost too much which can present an inconvenience to the shoppers.
It is important that the Catholic shopkeepers stay in business. Why? The answer is perhaps unexpected.
The Christian presence within the Holy Land speaks directly to the Risen Christ from which the Catholic Church springs. Many of us in the United States think the Holy Land should be filled with Christians just because! But, the truth of the matter is the population has declined to under 155,000 Christians (down from over 2 million less than 10 years ago).
In this very historic land where Jesus was incarnated, lived, died and rose from the dead….the Christians are disappearing! The Jewish population is, as you would think, strong. The Moslem population is also very strong and growing. But, the Christians are not tolerated well in the very place that Our Lord lived His life. So, the age-old words of Christ resonate ever so loudly in these modern times, “Remember, if they hate you, it is because they hated me first.”
So, what can be done for these Christian shopkeepers?
Awareness from the pilgrim tourists going to the Holy Land is a huge start. Most Christian tour guides will go out of their way to lead the pilgrims to these vendors so they can have the Christian business.
We may be half way around the world from Israel, but every time we participate at Holy Mass, we are all joined together, we the Catholics of the world, together with the great Communion of Saints in heaven. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can help each other fight the good fight.
Look for the Jerusalem Cross on the shopkeeper’s card! That tells you he is Christian.