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Synod hears fears of disappearing Christian presence in Middle East

Catholic World News - October 13, 2010

The Christian presence in the Middle East is gravely endangered by political conflicts and by accelerated emigration, several prelates agreed in presentations to the Synod of Bishops on October 12 and 13.

After plenary sessions on Tuesday, the Synod fathers met on Wednesday morning in smaller groups, broken down by language, for a more extended discussion of the themes that had emerged in the opening sessions. For the first time, Arabic is one of the languages for these working groups.

Patriarch Gregory III Laham of Antioch, the leader of the Melkite Catholic Church, said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the root of the region’s political instability. Islamic fundamentalist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah, he said, have arisen because of the conflict, “as well internal dissension, slowness in development, the rise of hatred, the loss of hope in the young who constitute 60% of the population in Arab countries.” As war and emigration cut into the Christian presence, the Melkite Patriarch observed, there is a risk that the Middle East will become simply a Muslim enclave, facing the Christian society of Europe. He warned:

Should this happen-- should the East be emptied of its Christians-- this would mean that any occasion would be propitious for a new clash of cultures, of civilizations and even of religions, a destructive clash between the Muslim Arab East and the Christian West.

Latin-rite Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem appealed to Catholics in other lands to show their love for their Christian brothers in the Holy Land—through prayers, pilgrimages, and concrete gestures of both economic and political support. “To be silent because of fear before the dramatic situation you all know about would be a sin of omission,” he said.

Syrian Catholic Archbishop Basile Casmoussa of Mosul, Iraq—whose archdiocese has been battered by anti-Christian violence, and who was himself a kidnap victim in 2005—said that the Christian presence is decreasing for several related reasons: a loss of confidence, campaigns of intimidation by Islamic fundamentalist, a drop in the birth rate, and a sense that Christians are viewed as representatives of an alien Western presence in the Middle East.

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  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Oct. 15, 2010 8:27 PM ET USA

    These are very brave leaders,in the trenches with their people. Having just come off a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I see how important it is to preserve a Catholic presence here. It is extremely safe, and unbelievably rewarding. You will be changed if you make the trip. I wish I could afford to do it again.

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