What Is Driving Christians Out of the Middle East?
By Dana Kennedy
10/13/2010 Middle East (AOL News) – Christians are fleeing the birthplace of Christianity in the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be to blame, according to regional bishops summoned to the Vatican this week to reverse the troubling trend.
Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Damascus, Syria, said at the gathering that Christian emigration is “among the most dangerous effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
He predicted that the Christian exodus will turn Arab society into “a society with only one color, a society uniquely Muslim,” the Catholic News Service reported.
Pope Benedict XVI called the two-week synod this week out of alarm over the dwindling population of Christians in a region that holds Christianity’s holiest sites.
Two Muslim imams and a rabbi will address the 185 bishops from the Middle East taking part in the synod.
The synod’s “working document” singled out Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories as a crucial factor for why Palestinian Christians feel so beleaguered and are apt to leave, The Associated Press reported.
Palestinian Christians are dependent on Israel for permission to enter holy sites located within Israel proper.
A few bishops also blamed radical Islamic extremists for the exodus of Christians from the Middle East.
Syrian Catholic Archbishop Basile Casmoussa of Mosul, Iraq, said that “waves of terrorism inspired by religious ideologies” as well as a decreasing Christian birthrate and an increasing Muslim birthrate are key reasons Christians are losing ground in the Middle East.
Iraq’s Catholic population dropped from 2.89 percent of the country in 1980 to 0.89 percent last year. The share of Catholics in Israel’s population decreased from 3.8 percent in 1980 to 1.82 percent last year.
Patriarch Gregory III, Damascus archbishop of the Greek-Melkites, an Eastern Rite church that answers to Rome, said extremist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah stemmed from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Should the East be emptied of its Christians,” he said, “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.”