Mideast Christians

  • April 1, 2010

The passion, death and resurrection of Christ focusses our attention each Easter on the cradle of Christianity, the Middle East. It is where the earliest Christians gave witness to the first Easter, where the faith was nurtured and from where it spread out to all corners of the Earth.

This Easter, we are once again asked to pray for the Christians who remain in this troubled region and particularly for those who have been forced to flea persecution to seek refuge in neighbouring nations. Those that remain in their homeland often live in fear. Their numbers are dwindling. Those that have fled usually live as refugees in deplorable conditions. A small number have found refuge in welcoming nations such as Canada and the United States.

There is widespread concern that, at the current exodus rate, within a generation Christianity will be virtually extinct in the land where Christ walked and in the surrounding region where His disciples first spread His message. Many believe a Holy Land purged of Christians is imminent and unavoidable. The faithful are being forced to leave explicitly because they are Christian, because they believe in the message of Easter, in the risen Christ.

Nowhere is the situation more dire than in Iraq. Hundreds of Christian Iraqis have been killed, thousands injured and more than 400,000 are reported to have fled their homes in recent years. Most that have run live in desperate conditions in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, relying on the United Nations for daily aid and hoping the rest of the world will hear their plea for help.

Later this month The Catholic Register will publish a special section devoted to the plight of these forsaken people. Our reporter, Michael Swan, has been on a two-week assignment to the Middle East to witness first hand the unfolding tragedy, to hear the stories of harassment, discrimination and violence directed at Christians and to speak to church and political leaders.

But during the season of Easter we all should pause to remember their situation and to contemplate the consequences if the light of Christianity goes dark where the Gospels were first proclaimed.

Christianity has contributed immeasurably to the culture, economy and very fabric of the region. It has provided schools and hospitals, care for the poor, nurtured the arts and strengthened the economy. More important, in a region rife with intolerance, Christians bear witness to values of tolerance, justice, charity and forgiveness handed down by Christ and which provide an important framework for a way forward between Jews and Muslims.

It takes a martyr’s courage for a Christian to stay at home as neighbours turn against you, or to bundle up your family and leave all your possessions behind in a flight to safety. These people face hardship and sometimes death because they hold Christian beliefs, because they believe the message of Easter.

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