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Christians in the Middle East: Present Situation and Future Prospects

29 Jun 2016 – Editors’ note: The following is a statement delivered by the Maronite patriarch of Antioch, Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai, at a press conference hosted by CNEWA in its New York offices on Monday, 27 June 2016.

I will develop this topic in four points:

I. Christians in the Middle East
II. Recent developments
III. What Future for the Middle East?
IV. Final Considerations

I. Christians in the Middle East

  1. Christians have been living in the Middle East since the dawn of Christianity, 600 years before Islam. They have enriched the cultures of the region with their different traditions. They belong to the various Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Churches: in addition to the Latin Church following the Roman Tradition, the Catholic and Orthodox Eastern and Oriental are Patriarchal Churches which were formed around the Apostolic Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem. Likewise, we have the Chaldean and Armenian Churches.

    The patriarchal Church of Alexandria of the Copts; Catholic and Orthodox, the three patriarchal Churches of Antioch: Maronite, the only non uniate Eastern Catholic Church, Greek Melkite, Greek Orthodox, and Syrian Catholic and Orthodox; the patriarchal Church of Babylon of the Chaldeans and the Assyrian Church of the East, and that of Cilicia for the Armenians, Catholic and Orthodox and Etchmiadzin for the Armenian Orthodox. Also living in the area are Bishops, priests present are Indian priests and faithful from the Major Archbishoprics of Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Syro-Malabars, and from Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankaras, as well as priests and faithful of the Oriental Churches and the Latin Church in Asia and Eastern Europe, and many members of the faithful from Ethiopia and Eritrea. All the Evangelical protestant traditions are present also in the Middle East.

    All those churches have their hierarchical structure, their educational, social and medical services and more. Most of those Churches are thriving particularly in Lebanon, because of the atmosphere of freedom secured by the nature of the political system there which separates Religion and State, and regulates the coexistence between Christians and Muslims on equal basis within a democratic system.

  2. Christians and Muslims have lived together for fourteen hundred years. Christians have always played an invaluable role in the educational, cultural, social, economic and national revival. They helped spread the culture of diversity, moderation, openness, respect, acceptance and cooperation with those who are different. They helped also develop the concept of equality in citizenship, and they promoted freedom and human rights. They lived in their countries with wisdom and prudence; they respected political authorities, obeyed the laws of their countries and honored their Constitutions. They are usually good and law abiding citizens and this is why they gain normally the confidence of rulers, kings and presidents, who offer them opportunities to live and work, with dignity and respect.

  3. The Christian presence has enriched the Middle East its cultures and history with evangelical values on the human, political, cultural and social levels. This includes the sacredness of human life, the dignity of the person, fundamental human rights and liberties, solidarity and interdependence, a culture of justice and peace, unity in diversity, equal rights of citizenship, the respect of differences, openness as well as moderation, and a sense of democracy and dialogue with various components of society.

  4. Christianity became an essential part of the culture of those countries, and it has also benefited from Islamic values and traditions. This Christian-Muslim cultural interaction has resulted in a spirit of openness and modernity for the majority of Muslims. This constitutes a sign of hope for a better future for the Middle East.

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