Anglican leader worried about Mideast's Christians

Baptismal Site, Jordan - The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams voiced grave concern Saturday over the eroding Christian presence in the Holy Land on the first stop of his four-day pilgrimage to the region.

Williams, the spiritual leader of the Anglican communion worldwide, held a sermon for hundreds of faithful at the River Jordan after dedicating the cornerstone of an Anglican church to be built at the site where tradition says Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.

Williams said he "worried deeply" about the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Mideast, and stressed that it was the church's duty to support Christians who face hardship due to regional conflicts.

Williams is also expected to visit Gaza and the West Bank, after traveling to Jerusalem for meetings with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as part of an interfaith dialogue.

Christians make up only about 5 percent of Jordan's 6 million people, and have a minor presence in most other countries in the Mideast.

Many Jordanian Anglicans rejoiced at Williams' visit - his second official trip to the country.

Ghazi Musharbash, who cares for orphans in Amman, praised the archbishop for his stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict, saying Williams' views have won him great respect among Jordan's Christians.

Musharbash said the archbishop has pushed for "a just peace settlement," showing support for Palestinians while also maintaining good ties with Israel.

"He is telling Israelis that as you want to live in peace, so should your neighbors live in peace," Musharbash said, adding that a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is crucial for Christians to remain in the Mideast.

"We don't want to have our fellow Christians from the West coming to see only stones and museums," he said.