(LA Times) - With the Christmas season here, a new study finds that the Christian percentage of the world's population has remained fairly steady over the last century but that its distribution has changed dramatically, with just 25 percent now found in Europe, a slightly higher percentage than in sub-Saharan Africa.
The study by the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that there are 2.18billion Christians in the world, about one-third of the estimated 6.9 billion global population. About 37 percent of those Christians are in the Western Hemisphere.
In 1910, about two-thirds of Christians lived in Europe, where the majority had resided for a millennium. The Christian percentage of the population in sub-Saharan Africa rose from 9 percent in 1910 to 63 percent in 2010, and in the Asia-Pacific region it went from 3 to 7 percent.
This includes China, where the researchers estimate 5 percent of the population is Christian, mostly Protestant or Catholic.
The lowest concentration of Christians is found in the regions where the faith began: the Middle East and North Africa, where Christians are about 4 percent of the population.
The analysis, "Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population," is available on the group's website, http://www.pewforum.org/ .
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) - The annual cleaning of one of Christianity's holiest churches deteriorated into a brawl between rival clergy Wednesday, as dozens of monks feuding over sacred space at the Church of the Nativity battled each other with brooms until police intervened.
The ancient church, built over the traditional site of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, is shared by three Christian denominations - Roman Catholics, Armenians and Greek Orthodox. Wednesday's fight erupted between Greek and Armenian clergy, with both sides accusing each other of encroaching on parts of the church to which they lay claim.
The monks were tidying up the church ahead of Orthodox Christmas celebrations in early January, following celebrations by Western Christians on Dec. 25. The fight erupted between monks along the border of their respective areas. Some shouted and hurled brooms.
Palestinian security forces rushed in to break up the melee, and no serious injuries were reported. A Palestinian police spokesman would not immediately comment.
A fragile status quo governs relations among the denominations at the ancient church, and to repair or clean a part of the structure is to own it, according to accepted practice. That means that letting other sects clean part of the church could allow one to gain ground at another's expense. Similar fights have taken place during the same late-December cleaning effort in the past.
BEIT SHEMESH, Israel (AP) - A shy 8-year-old schoolgirl has unwittingly found herself on the front line of Israel's latest religious war.
Naama Margolese is a ponytailed, bespectacled second-grader who is afraid of walking to her religious Jewish girls school for fear of ultra-Orthodox extremists who have spat on her and called her a whore for dressing "immodestly."
Her plight has drawn new attention to the simmering issue of religious coercion in Israel, and the increasing brazenness of extremists in the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
"When I walk to school in the morning I used to get a tummy ache because I was so scared ... that they were going to stand and start yelling and spitting," the pale, blue-eyed girl said softly in an interview with The Associated Press Monday. "They were scary. They don't want us to go to the school."
The new girls school that Naama attends in the city of Beit Shemesh, to the west of Jerusalem, is on the border between an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and a community of modern Orthodox Jewish residents, many of them American immigrants