Vatican City, Nov. 6--(AP) The Vatican is giving $400,000 to Roman Catholic causes in Israel and the West Bank to try to improve life for Christians there and persuade them not to flee the ongoing fighting.

Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, head of Cor Unum, the Vatican's charity arm, will visit Israel this week and deliver the money and appeal to Christians to remain in the region, the Vatican said Wednesday.

A statement from Cor Unum noted that religious tourism to the region had fallen precipitously in the past two years of fighting, particularly after a standoff earlier this year between Israeli troops and Palestinians holed up in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. "It's understandable why there is a desire among many to leave the country," the statement said. "The safekeeping of holy sites, however, would be seriously put in danger if Christians abandoned them."

Cordes will deliver the funds along with an appeal from Pope John Paul II to "encourage Christians to remain in these tortured places, like so many missionaries already are doing in heroic fashion," the statement said. The money will be divided among the Jerusalem Patriarchate, the Franciscan order, Caritas and various Catholic communities in the region. "The support is offered to improve the condition of life and work in their lands, to be a fertile seed of humanity and peace," the statement said.

The money was collected in an appeal launched by John Paul after the Sept. 11 attacks to help comfort victims of war and terrorism.

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