World Council of Churches - News
CHRISTIAN PRESENCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST: THEOLOGICAL AND POLITICAL CHALLENGES
For immediate release: 30 June 2011
The need for increased dialogue among churches in the Middle East and with
churches in the East and West were only two of the many concerns addressed
by 30 theologians, social scientists, politicians and church representatives
at a recent conference in Volos, Greece.
The five-day conference, which was sponsored by the World Council of
Churches (WCC) and the Volos Theological Academy, was held 19-23 June as a
follow up to a WCC Central Committee statement adopted in February on the
presence and witness of Christians in the Middle East (Link:
This meeting comes in advance of a second meeting with religious leaders to
take place in the Middle East in November 2012.
At the conference the group wrestled with the theological and political
challenges facing Christians in the Middle East and particularly in
Palestine today. These include not only the need for bridging gaps and
increasing dialogue, but the future of the Christian presence in the region.
While there are no reliable numbers for the entire region, conflict
situations such as Palestine and Iraq have seen significant drops in the
Christian populations because of Israeli occupation and the war in Iraq
In 2003 Christians in Iraq made up almost six percent of the population,
today their number has dropped to just one percent.
Christian populations in other countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and
Egypt have been decreasing over longer periods of time, often due to
demographic, economic and immigration realities.
Churches in the Middle East are viewed as the cradle of Christianity, and
their decreasing numbers have become a pressing concern for the global
During the conference the participants explored a number of topics including
the impact of the Kairos Document (Link:
) issued by
Palestinian Christian leaders in December 2009 concerning the long running
The gathering also explored the impact of recent political uprisings in
North Africa and the Middle East on Christians in the region.
Participants listened to testimonies on Christian living experiences coming
from different parts of the region. They also explored the historical
connection between the Bible and the region, looked into issues of
occupation and "Promised Land", the adoption of a minority mentality, as
well as theological perspectives including Christian Zionism.
Finally, the gathering sought to propose ways for Christians to help shape
the region and deepen the Christian self-understanding in the wider
The conference was hosted by Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias and heard
Bishop Athenagoras of Sinope speaking on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarch
Bartholomew I, as well as a message addressed to the participants by the
Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Hieronymus II. It was followed
worldwide through an internet live stream.
Conference to look at Christian faith in Palestine and the Middle East today
Churches in the Middle East: solidarity and witness for peace
Volos Academy for Theological Studies (Link:
Conference report by the Volos Academy (Link:
Presence in the Middle East.pdf )