Europe

British cardinal pays rare visit to Gaza's Christians

  • Nuns attend a Sunday mass held by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

    Nuns attend a Sunday mass held by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)  (The Associated Press)

  • Nuns attend a Sunday mass held by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

    Nuns attend a Sunday mass held by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)  (The Associated Press)

  • Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, left, stands next to Father Imad Twal, the general secretary of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, as he holds a Sunday mass at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

    Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, left, stands next to Father Imad Twal, the general secretary of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, as he holds a Sunday mass at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)  (The Associated Press)

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales is in the Gaza Strip, trying to give a spiritual lift to the territory's tiny Christian minority.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols on Sunday praised Gaza's Christians, whose numbers have dwindled during a decade of Hamas rule and an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

He says "there've always been Christians here. Their numbers are small, but I believe their faith is strong."

Before the militant Hamas group took over Gaza in 2007, the Christian population in the coastal enclave was over 3,000. Today, just 1,200 Christians remain, most of them Orthodox.

Christian leaders blame the shattered economy, conflict with Israel and the blockade for encouraging Christians to move out. But community members have also complained that they do not feel comfortable under Hamas rule.