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Pope Visits Damascus as Christians quit Holy Land

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  • Thomas Daniel
    Pope Visits Damascus as Christians quit Holy Land An Article written by: Robert Fisk, appeared in a Saudi Arabian popular English daily ARAB NEWS on 8th May
    Message 1 of 1 , May 8, 2001
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      Pope Visits Damascus as Christians quit Holy Land

      An Article written by: Robert Fisk, appeared in a Saudi Arabian
      popular English daily "ARAB NEWS" on 8th May 2001.

      BEIRUT- The rod to Damascus may have been the highlight of the Pop's
      latest pilgrimage to the Middle East yesterday, but the so
      called "Holly Land" is ever less Christians as the regions dwindling
      number of them stage a mass exodus to the West. Religious scholars
      estimate that up to 10 million Christians have abandoned their homes
      in the Middle East over the past 15 years, leaving – at best – 15
      million Christians in the lands from which faith sprang.

      In a speech that appeared to favor the Arabs and is bound to anger
      the Israelis, the Pope said it was time to ban "the acquisition of
      territory by forces" and supported "respect for the resolutions of
      the UN and Geneva Conventions".

      But however much the Catholic Church trumpets the Poe's visit to the
      Omayyad Mosque and resting place of John the Baptist, nothing can
      obscure the decision of the Christian population to head for a new
      economic life in America, Australia and Northern Europe. Iraq's 6 %
      Christian minority has dwindled to 2.5 % since the 1991 Gulf war,
      Egypt's 12% Copts have fallen to 8% in perhaps five years and
      Jordan's Christian community has halved in a decade and half; a
      tragedy for Christian leaders. As General secretary of the Middle
      East Council Of Churches in Beirut, Dr. Riad Jarjour has repeatedly
      warned Christian dominations of falling numbers in the
      region. "Christians should stay in the land where Christ was born,"
      he says. "Their main reason for going is economic-but I don't believe
      many of them are leaving for better homes. Their departure is tragedy
      for us."

      In a world where many Christians subconsciously believe their
      religion is "Western" rather than Eastern – American clichés about
      the "Christian West" and "Muslim East" have seen to that- the ghosts
      of past horrors have always reappeared to haunt relations between
      Muslims and Christians. Pope Urban II's bloody Crusade ended in
      Jerusalem in 1099 as European knights rode their horses through
      literal rivers of Muslim and Jewish blood. Catholics prefer to
      exercise discretion over their 88 year tenure of the "Holy Land"
      which ended when Salahuddin Ayyubi – whose magnificent tomb lies in
      the Omayyad Mosque – defeated the Crusaders in what is now the
      occupied West bank.

      But Jarjour insists that the present-day Christian exodus is
      primarily economic. "I wouldn't say at all that there is a religious
      factor except in some cases like Turkey where Christians have been a
      little pressured recently." Jarjour says. "The participation of
      Christians in public life, in civil society, in government positions,
      gives them a greater sense of security to stay and not to leave. In
      the last few years, we have, it's true, been witnessing some
      alteration of Christians in certain population- this makes the
      younger Christian generation concerned about their future."

      Gulf War sanctions are regarded as the primary cause of Iraq's
      Christian exodus while the latest Palestine - Israeli conflict is
      prompting Christian families to leave. The homes of dozens of
      Christian at Beit Jolla in the occupied West Bank have been shelled
      by Israeli tanks after Palestine gunmen fired into Jewish homes built
      on confiscated Arab land at Gilo.

      A 1993 study conducted by Bernard Sabella on the causes of their
      exodus from the Middle East concluded that the rate of Christian
      emigration was twice that of the general population; but the same
      study noted that of the 750,000 Palestine exiled from their homes by
      Israelis in 1948, between 50,000 and 60,000 were Christians and who
      went on to America and Australia. The Lebanese civil war provoked
      another Christian exodus, perhaps a many as 250,000, toward the West.
      Most have not returned.

      Compiled By: Thomas Daniel
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