Christians of the Orient: The originality of pluralism

Christians of the Orient: The originality of pluralism

By Fr. Rif’at Bader

The current major issue is not about the followers of a certain religion; it is rather the responsibility and duty to focus on the "sublime diversity" that characterized the Middle East and the Arab countries over the past decades or rather the past centuries. As this week marks the third anniversary of the forcible "displacement of Christians" from Iraq, particularly from Mosul as well as other towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain, we find them nowadays divided into different categories. Some of them fled to Irbil being a safe place in their country of origin, namely Iraq, while others fled to neighboring countries, especially to Jordan and Lebanon.

Jordan has extended to the brethren Iraqis all kinds of help that cover all aspects of basic life including housing, food, drinking, health, education and above that psychological guidance to help them accept what happened to them. Caritas Jordan has done a good job by dividing the forcibly displaced into groups who were located in Naour, Marj Al Hamam, Fuheis, Madaba and other areas… and who were referred to by their locations.

As we examine the current situation of the Christians of Iraq three years after the forcible displacement--which we did not expect that it would happen in the 21st century--we find out that a large portion of them has already left to a distant country, namely Australia, while others are still awaiting travel arrangements. The rest are families that are still in Irbil awaiting the support of the government and the Church in Iraq in order to return to their homeland after the reconstruction has been completed, which the Iraqi ambassador in Amman said, during a celebration held recently marking the liberation of Mosul, that it will cost hundreds of billions. More importantly, we should think about how the Iraqi people will accommodate themselves to these unprecedented conditions in an area that witnessed bloodshed and brainwashing that included destructive thoughts.

We also enquire about the situation of the Christians of the Orient in general. They are the crème de la crème of the Orient along with their brethren in culture, history and destiny, namely the Muslims. Considering figures, the Washington-based CNEWA and a Vatican daily published regarding the latest report on the number of Christians in nine countries in the Middle East: The report states that the number of Christians has declined so that it does not exceed 14 million people in Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Turkey ( whose total population is 258 million people). In Syria, alone, more than one million Christians have been forcibly displaced in five years. In Egypt, the percentage of Christians has shrunk to 10 per cent (from 19 per cent in 1910). In Lebanon, the percentage of Christians was 53 per cent in 1932 and has now dropped to less than 40 per cent. In Palestine, the percentage of Christians dropped from 20 per cent to 2.1 per cent, and in occupied Jerusalem alone it fell from 20 per cent in 1948 to less than 2 per cent at present.

It is not important to merely consider figures and the decline in percentages, at a time when the conflagration continues in several areas. It is early to give accurate percentages, but what is most urgent is how to preserve pluralism, originality, historical partnership, cooperation and sound education in homes, schools, and places of worship so as not continue to fall in the trap of bigotry and of the desire to exclude the others, instead of cooperating with them in building a happy and glorious future.

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