International conferences on the Christians of the East

International conferences on the Christians of the East

By Fr. Rif’at Bader

Have the Christians of the East become the prime issue of the world?

Is there a "serious" concern in their conditions and the need for them to stay in the East?

In the wake of the exhibition titled ''Chrétiens d'Orient: Deux mille ans d'histoire'' (Eastern Christians: Two Thousand Years of History), which was opened in Paris by French President Emmanuel Macron and is still under way, an international conference has convened in Hungary, where 30 countries participated including Hungary itself. This was the first government-organized conference and titled, “Persecution of Christians of the East”.

After a few days, heads of Churches from the East left for the US capital, Washington, to take part in a high-level conference that has convened annually since 2104, titled, “In Defense of Christians”. US Vice President said during the opening session that “the United States will work directly with faith-based groups to get genocide victims the help they need to rebuild their lives.” He addressed the Christians in the region saying: “Help is on its way to you.”

I monitored some comments on social media websites by those who remained in the East and did not want to leave the land of their ancestors, and others who left for distant countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and European countries.

The first group of people does not expect anything, since they had got many promises in the past. The second category says that you have delayed your efforts to help us. We read the news in media outlets about our countries of origin, from far away, which have become safe havens for us.

There have been numerous talks about Western governmental support for the Christians of the East, but this proved to be futile. For example, in 2012, former French Minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppé wrote an article published by several international newspapers including Jordanian daily Al-Rai (March 5, 2012), titled, "Christians of the East and the Arab Spring" in which he urged Christians, especially in Syria, to engage in the revolutions of change. He concluded his article by saying:"France will stay by you as has always been the case." We all know what happened to the Christians since the day this article was written. Five years have passed. These years were merely a heavy Cross carried by the Christians of Mosul and by a large number of Syrian Christians who went to distant places, without receiving assistance from governments, except from local or international charities.

Regardless of the quality of aid as well as the moral and material promises to the Christians of the East, we must remember three things:

First, the Christians do not wish to receive assistance in isolation from other citizens. They are part of their community and are not an isolated entity. In the speeches by the heads of the Christian churches in the Middle East, they repeatedly reject isolating the Christians in "special cantons". They also reject marginalizing them. They should be viewed as basic components of their societies and enjoy the same opportunities as other citizens do.

Second: The best gift that may be presented, not only to Christians, but to all peoples of the East is helping restore security and stability in the first place as well as promoting the values of citizenship and equality within the societies themselves where there is no discrimination among citizens on the basis of religious or others issues.

I, thereby, reiterate what Patriarch Bishara Rai said a few days ago in Washington. He said that "we have to differentiate between persecution and aggression. The Christians are not persecuted since persecution is the responsibility of states that order the elimination of certain groups of people. Actually, this did not happen. What happened is merely waging attacks on Christians by extremist groups that do not target the followers of a certain religion in particular, but rather aim to demolish the entire humanity."

Third: International conferences that discuss the situation of the Christians of the East have been held, but the heads of the Churches in Jerusalem do not call for similar conferences as is the case with the Christians of the Iraq and Syria. Why? Because those who organize these conferences think that the Christians of the East have no challenges other than the recent extremist acts. The question is: Isn't the Israeli occupation a challenge to the Christians in Palestine, specifically in the city of Jerusalem? Why not add the occupation as one of the most important challenges facing the Christians of the East, especially in Palestine?

In the end, the attacks on ethnic or religious components are mere acts of aggression on the entire East. The East will continue to have a distinctive historical legacy, as has been the case all the time, namely, unity in plurality.

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