ICC Note: Persecution, war, repression are all driving Christians to flee the Middle East. Leaders from across the globe, and across religious lines, all must engage if there is to be any real solution. As Pope Francis makes his visit to the United States he is afforded an opportunity to once again use his position and influence to speak up on behalf of not just Catholics but all Christians who are facing threats of genocidal proportions.
09/17/2015 Middle East (The Hill) – Overriding all the public ceremonies dominating Pope Francis’s trip to Washington this month will be his growing concern about the bloody turmoil in the Middle East that has set off waves of refugees and threatens the few remaining Christians living in the region. It is a topic that will surface when he addresses the Congress and when he meets with President Obama.
For more than 2,000 years, Christians have been a significant part of the religiously complex Middle East, living side by side with Muslims and Jews, but that is changing and with it a growing fear that they no longer will be at home in the region. It seems that the political leaders are impotent in finding any resolution to the crisis, affecting not only Christians, but Muslims and Jews.
Religious leaders are finding the courage of their beliefs and are beginning to develop leadership roles to confront the seemingly endless violence and mayhem. Terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) mask criminality under the guise of conservative Islam, a convenient pretext to establish they are operating with the blessings of a God with a rigid code even for believers who don’t follow their narrowly defined tenets.
The diaspora of refugees desperately seeking sanctuary in Europe are Muslims as well as Christians. The Christian flight, however, is significant. While the statistical figures are not precise, The New York Times reported that the number of Christians in the Middle East has declined from 14 percent of the population to about 4 percent. Newsweek has reported a similar number, that the population in the region fell from 20 percent to 5 percent. In Iraq, the number of Christians fell from some 1.4 million to less than 500,000, and more than one-third of Syria’s Christians, some 600,000, have fled the country.