Devout Christians march for Zionism in Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel - More than 5,000 evangelical Christians, including believers from as far afield as Congo and New Zealand, marched through Jerusalem on Tuesday to voice their support for Zionism and the state of Israel.

The event, organized by a group known as the International Christian Embassy of Israel, was the latest trip to the Holy Land by what are dubbed Christian Zionists, whose avid support for Israel has angered some Christian bishops and the


"I am here to show my love and support for the people of Israel," said Mpoy Muambi, a pastor from the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose thick maroon-wool suit left him looking slightly out of place in Jerusalem's searing sun.

Christian Zionists form a growing part of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, the Jewish state's main ally. They believe the return of Jews to the Holy Land and establishment of Israel are proof of God's promises to biblical patriarchs.

In recent years, Christian Zionist groups in the United States have even provided money for social and educational groups in Israel, and have actively promoted its politics.

Earlier this year, the Vatican's envoy in the Holy Land and bishops from three other churches launched a rare attack on the movement, accusing it of promoting "racial exclusivity and perpetual war."

"The Christian Zionist programme provides a world view where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism," a declaration read.


Those joining the march on Tuesday, the 27th pilgrimage of its kind, dismissed those accusations, saying their support for Israel was peaceful. They said the country needed their help all the more following its recent war in Lebanon.

"After the war, we wanted even more for the people of Israel to know that we are not afraid. God wanted us to come to show them we love them," said Jan Christianson, 61, a devout Christian who came from New Zealand with her husband.

The pilgrims, many of them wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan "Israel, you are in our hearts," began their visit with a dinner on Sunday when they were welcomed with a message from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"This is the city God has chosen to be the capital of the Jewish people and it will remain the capital of the Jewish people," the recorded message said. "There is no power in the world that can change it."

On hearing Olmert's words, the crowd erupted in applause and shouted in Hebrew: "The nation of Israel lives!"

The largest number of Christian Zionists, most of whom are evangelical Protestants, are based in the United States.

According to websites, the movement believes that God has chosen the Jewish people to bring redemption to mankind. The return of the Jews to Israel will pave the way for Christ's second coming, they believe.

"My beliefs say that this land belongs to the Jews," said Diane, one of the pilgrims marching on Tuesday.

"I'm a history teacher, so I love the fact that I can read the future in a history book called the Bible."