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
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