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It would be an invaluable contribution if the church, if Christians can become an effective instrument to turn around the Islamic and Jewish worlds in which they live. In small ways, this is already happening. For example, Christian schools serve all the people of the region. At Bethlehem University, the majority of the students are not Catholic or Christian, yet they are receiving solid values, learning about the other, experiencing coexistence and receiving a high-quality education.

Migration of Christians. Though maintaining the Christian presence in the Middle East is important, the fact is that many Middle East Christians are emigrating.

When we talk about migration, we need to recall that Christianity is fundamentally a movement. Christians from the beginning have always spread throughout the world, conscious of their mission of evangelization, of spreading the good news of the teachings of Jesus and the kingdom of God.

The movement — the migration — of Christians is not necessarily bad. The fact that many Christians leave one place and go to another is not an evil, though they may move with regret. If there are more Christian Bethlehemites in Santiago, Chile, than in Bethlehem, then so be it; it is a fact of life. Is the goal to get every Christian Bethlehemite from Santiago back to Bethlehem to create a Christian majority there? Whether or not it is the goal, it is not going to happen; this also is a fact of life.

On the other hand, is it not wonderful that Christians from Bethlehem are bringing their values and history with them to other lands? Clearly, the migration of Middle East Christians, though not necessarily a negative phenomenon, does involve the weakening and perhaps ultimately the loss of a rich patrimony and culture in their homelands.

It is understandable that Christians and other people in the Middle East want to seek better lives elsewhere. It takes a valiant minority to stay simply for the sake of maintaining the Christian presence when other parts of the world beckon with jobs, educational opportunities, freedom and a brighter future.

Cultivating a climate of safe migration. Bear in mind that migration does not mean that individuals cannot return. One of our challenges is to create a climate for safe migration. We worry about whether storks can travel from Russia, through the Middle East flyway, to Africa and back again. We are concerned that Monarch butterflies can get from North to Central America and back again. We want to ensure that whales can migrate freely through the seas.

Why are we not at least as concerned about the migration of people? That is to say, together with environmentalists, we want animals to live in a safe place, pass freely en route to their destinations, and have a safe breeding ground when they arrive. Do not migrating people deserve at least as much?

Minimally, as responsible Christians we must become migration advocates with the United Nations and with our own governments — advocates of safeguards that allow people to remain in their own homelands if they wish and of laws that both facilitate their moving about the world and also allow them, if you will, new breeding grounds in other places.

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Tags: Middle East Christians Christian-Muslim relations Emigration Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem