The Middle East Christians’ and Christianity’s tragedy: Divided we fall... what next?

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“Is this the end of Christianity in the Middle East?” asks La Stampa

The Middle East Christians’ and Christianity’s tragedy: Divided we fall... what next?

ankawa.com

The time has come for His Holiness Pope Francis to hold an extraordinary emergency meeting in the Vatican with invitees from all the Middle East heads of Christian communities–church a and laity–along with the foreign ministers of the United States of America, Europe, and the Middle East. The meeting should have one agenda: the present and future existence of the Middle East Christians in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan, with a precise timetable and hopeful outcome.

The presence of Christians and Christianity in the Middle East has been at the whims of the rulers of the Middle East–those who befriended them and those who persecuted them but who have never been able to eliminate them…until now.

Christians and Christianity had a pronounced and sizeable presence in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and the Holy Land (Palestine and Israel) due to their cultural, educational, financial, and social attitudes in those countries. They are well-known for their achievements in their respective pursuits. Their presence in the Middle East today has not gone unnoticed by the large number of Middle East Christian emigrants that have continued to develop relationships, including re-introducing their culture in their countries of origin to their children and grandchildren. These relationships are a positive movement. Modern media and social networking has also brought them closer together. Despite these developments, they have undergone persecution, forced conversion, and other overt and covert methods to eliminate them.

Moreover, throughout history, Middle East Christian leadership has been its own worst enemy, with inter-denominational, inter-cultural, and inter-geopolitical squabbles. It is said that the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was left in the hands of a Muslim family by Saladin in 1187 A.D. due to the squabbling among Christian hierarchy, and it remains that way. All you must do is visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today and you will be saddened by the divisions among the Christians in their respective zones, as I observed during my recent trip to the Holy Land.

Over many decades, the Middle East Christian leadership has met and created unified organizations. Every few years, they meet and repeat the same display of immediate unity with no follow-up. Even today, with the calamity the Middle East Christians are facing, we find individual patriarchs, cardinals, and popes travelling around the world prostrating the agony of the Middle East Christians, but this unilateral action has only brought self-gratification from their European host countries. They were showered with medals of bravery or status of a country, but had literally no positive outcome a year after the tragedy in Iraq or years after the Syrian tragedy. Pope Francis and European church leaders have taken similar unilateral actions, including visiting refugees of the affected countries. The result has been the same.

Despite these efforts, the total outcome has amounted to nothing. The Iraqi Christians have lost a sizeable area of their presence. In Syria, the Christians have not fared better. In Lebanon, the Christians are still so divided that they are not able to elect a Christian President, while in Jordan and Egypt, the situation is calmer due to the wisdom of the rulers in those countries.

We have not lost the Christians and Christianity in the Middle East yet, even at this eleventh hour. The question is, should we sit tight and de ja vu, or should we seek new methods that will awaken the world leadership’s conscience and real commitment that has until now turned a blind eye or has been hapless to the plight of the Middle East Christians?

The world still looks to Pope Francis as the moral authority. As a shepherd must protect his flock, he has been candid, courageous, and outspoken, whether during the Armenian Genocide or other occasions of Christian global persecution. The Middle East is a special spot in the history of Christianity. The Middle East Christians are the ones who spread Christianity all over the world. They are the main vine that extend its branches all over the world.

Pope Francis must now re-think and develop new approaches, including, but not limited to, inviting all the heads of the Middle East Christian churches–Catholics, Orthodox, Protestant, and others–with a few other lay leaders who have been active in this field in a closed and continuous session to come up with a few ideas on how to deal with the new realities. Maybe he is the only person who can succeed in this endeavor and save Christians and Christianity in the Middle East.

Other faiths have learned that unless they have a powerful political ally in global governmental leadership, they will not succeed. The Jewish community is an example of that, while the Muslim community, with its sheer numbers, wealth, and vigor in protecting its faith, whether in Africa, Asia, or Europe, has risen to the occasion to protect its faith and community.

When the Christians come together and act together, the world will listen. Such was the case with the 100th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in 2015, which only succeeded because of the perseverance of the Armenian Middle East Christians and their church leadership.

Today, the question is not whether we will have a presence in the Middle East. That is becoming an academic question. The question now is, when will the Middle East church leadership–be it Catholic, Orthodox, or other denominations–realize that they are in a downward spiral toward disappearance? They must come together hand-in-hand with lay leadership, under one organization, with one leadership, and one well-oriented western public relations, so that they can visit all together and not one-by-one the capitols of the world, the United Nations, European Parliaments, and even Asian and African countries to advocate for their fellow Christians.

This should not be a difficult task if the church leadership puts Christians and Christianity as their goal and not the personal ego or their denominations’ differences as a handicap.

This is not a new appeal from the mainstream Christian public. But the time has come for all the leadership to listen and recall what happened to the Christians after the fall of the Holy Land to Saladin and to other Saladin-like rulers.

In final analysis, it does not matter how many titles our leadership receives or how many medals of honor they earn. It does not matter how many conferences they attend or how many people will follow out of obedience. These things will mean nothing if Christianity and Christians disappear from the Middle East. They should always remember that history will not be kind to them, as it was not kind to those who have committed similar mistakes that led to the dwindling of Christians and Christianity in the Middle East in the past.

If the church leadership does not rise to the occasion, then the laypeople at large should act and make their voices heard. If not, then all of us should be blamed for our demise and nobody else.

Fri, 09/04/2015 - 22:31
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