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Perspectives

from the Secretary General

It’s a Small World

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

One of the favorite themes of many American “Westerns” is the tension between ranchers and farmers, cattlemen and settlers. Ranchers want open grazing land; settlers want to fence in the wide open spaces, build houses and till the land.

The story of the westward expansion of the United States is a tale of open land gradually giving way to farms, towns and, ultimately, cities. Paradoxically, as cities have grown, family farms and small towns have declined.

Many urban dwellers have become modern nomads; they have little attachment to any one place, often moving from apartment to apartment, city to city. They’re really not settlers at all; they don’t feel bound nor do they bind themselves to where they live.

The whole world is inexorably changing in a similar way. No matter how much blood is shed in the name of homelands, no matter how many disputes rage about boundaries and frontiers, people move about the world wherever they can.

At the beginning of last October’s Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, the secretary general, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, opened the working session with some very provocative population statistics.

He reported there are approximately 5,707,000 Catholics in the Middle East —understood as the countries from Turkey to Egypt, extending as far east as Iran, plus the island of Cyprus and the Arabian Peninsula. Approximately 2,429,000 of them (43%) are found in the Arabian Peninsula, but they’re “guest workers,” not native residents.

This means, for instance, there are more Syro–Malabar Catholics from India working in the Persian Gulf region than the total number of Christians of all denominations in Palestine and Israel.

On the other hand, you’ll probably find more Christians from Bethlehem in Santiago, Chile, than in Bethlehem itself.

The former Chaldean Catholic bishop of Basra, Iraq, now tends a Chaldean flock in Sydney, Australia. Pastors truly are shepherds; they follow their flocks wherever they graze!

In the New York metropolitan area where CNEWA has its administrative headquarters, there are three Syriac eparchies, three Armenian, two Russian and one Maronite.

Of course, when it comes to Middle East Christians, New York yields to metro Detroit with its huge Arab-American population.

At the synod for the Middle East, many Middle East bishops bewailed the exodus of so many of their faithful; the bishops were concerned to build a climate of peaceful coexistence so their people would stay in their historical homelands. However, the Middle Eastern bishops ministering in North and South America, Australia and Europe had a different perspective; they saw their originally immigrant flock fully integrated into their new homelands and thriving.

Unlike the situation of earlier centuries, emigration doesn’t mean being cut off forever from ancestral countries and cultures; modern emigrants can and often frequently visit “home” even though they don’t live there anymore.

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Tags: Middle East Christians Emigration Arab-Americans