MIDDLE EAST – The situation of Middle East Christians, if not a priority for international institutions, is the subject of the Church’s special attention. Through the voice of Vatican, or the Church’s prelates and associations, the faithful are invited not to leave their land which is the cradle of Christianity. For these dedicated Christians, the assurance of remaining is no longer evident. Between a presence on hostile ground and endangered lives, what should be done?
Those who issue calls do not insist on spiritual arguments of the type “You have to stay because Jesus or the prophets have lived on this earth”. However, the Church’s position is clear: Christians should stay because they contribute to the political and religious balance of Middle Eastern societies that they themselves have helped build over two millennia.
This view is recalled in the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, published by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011: “Christians share with Muslims the same daily life in the Middle East. Catholics in the Middle East […] have the duty and the right to participate fully in national life by working to build their country.” This position is recounted many times at conferences or international summits, it is the decisive argument in seeking help from the international community and especially to encourage Christians not to leave their land. In an appeal launched on November 21, 2013, Pope Francis insisted, by recalling, that Christians “are as full citizens, free to live their religion and traditions in societies to which they belong.”
When “duty” and “right” are impossible
Aware that their fathers were founders and creators, the current Middle East Christians now have a cruel sense of not being in their place. In some countries, they are rejected, persecuted, decimated, and stripped of their rights. Lasting political conflicts, declining religious freedom, or that fast and terrible onslaught of Daesh fighters in Iraq and Syria against religious and parish communities have revived the urgent and long-standing question: should we leave?
It was on this occasion that several prelates and senior religious leaders recalled the position of the Church. But how do the faithful, those who have no passports, no money, no diplomatic status, no protection service, hear this argument? They ask the same question as any man living on one of the five continents: from facing death, destruction and looting of my goods to the disappearance of my family and my children, why not escape?
What’s the right position?
Two worlds seem to clash: that those who want to have a presence and at all costs to avoid giving in due to terrorism, and the persecuted and frightened Christians who imagine no future in their country, and this presents the challenge to provide a safe life for their children. Can we blame them for wanting to save their lives, parents wanting to save their children? The issue is a dilemma: at what price do we proclaim and live the Gospel?
According to those hosting refugees – Bishops, NGOs, and Associations – most of the refugees who arrived in Jordan, France, America or elsewhere no longer wish to return to the places they left. They have lost all hope; why constantly seek new beginnings? So many are looking for a safe place where children, grandchildren, and any generation can live in peace without asking again the question of departure.
The current case of Eastern Christians is not isolated. Since the birth of the Church, Christians have suffered much persecution through the centuries. If the early Christians had not protected, or hid themselves, what would be left of the Christian faith? It is probably necessary to recognize that exile is legitimate, as long as the threat of death or fear are the only reasons for leaving. However, as the early Christians dared go in a hostile environment, those who go share with the whole Church, the duty and responsibility to return and resume the proclamation of the Gospel, which began there over two millennia and never ended. This return can take years, decades. But it is necessary because, as the Pope Francis reminds in Evangelii Gaudium, “the salvation that God performs and that the Church happily proclaims, is for all.”
By: Pierre Loup de Raucourt – LPJ