The Catholic Church haw convened a synod here, the first take place in the Holy Land in 2,000 years.
Church leaders and Christian intellectuals from Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian autonomous zones are participating in the event, which will include a series of discussions and meetings on social, religious and political affairs that is expected to last several years.
The official opening was marked with a religious ceremony at the Beit Jala seminary, near Bethlehem.
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the chief Roman Catholic clergyman in the region, is presiding over the synod, which will also include Greek Catholics, Armenian Catholics, Syrian Catholics, Maronites and Chaldeans.
All of the churches represented at the synod recognize the authority of the pope.
Father Rafiq Khoury, secretary-general of the synod, said that at its conclusion, participants will produce a document on the role of Christian today in the Holy Land.
Some of the meetings are being held in Jerusalem, which has been at the center of renewed debate as Israel and the Palestinians are set to discuss its final status in negotiations beginning in 1996.
Some said they expect the synod to address political issues such as the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian rights.
But Khoury said the synod would not directly deal with political issues connected to the peace process.
“Naturally, Jerusalem is at the center of the initiative,” he said, “but this is not a political gathering, it is a spiritual and religious one.”