The high-level group, representing the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), called on churches in Western countries to try to help reverse the decline, which is having "catastrophic consequences" for workers in Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem.
Among the 12 delegates were the Anglican Bishop of Exeter in England, Michael Langrish, and senior members of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland.
Bishop Langrish, an experienced visitor to the Holy Land, told ENI that his main impression this time had been "the silence" in places that are normally crowded with pilgrims.
"The Old City of Jerusalem was dead, with no economic activity," he said. "A pilgrim hotel was in darkness, and the owner told me that he hadn't had any visitors for several months. When I went to Calvary, I was the only person there."
In a two-week visit, members of the group went to Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
Delegation member Gillian Kingston, of the Methodist Church in Ireland, said: "We walked through the squalor of refugee camps and sat in the elegance of bishops' palaces."
The delegation met people ranging from government ministers to Hizbollah activists, from patriarchs and grand muftis to refugees in Beirut and Amman.
Among a 16-point set of "preliminary reflections" from the visit, the ecumenical group stated that violence—"whether from stick or stone, or lethally from tank and helicopter-gunship"—would not solve the Palestine-Israel crisis.
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