Vatican: ME Christians threatened

Pope concerned that persecution and conflict driving out Christians.

pope at temple mount 311 (photo credit: Ziv Goren/GPO/MCT)
pope at temple mount 311
(photo credit: Ziv Goren/GPO/MCT)
NICOSIA, Cyprus  — The Vatican said on Sunday that the international community is ignoring the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and political instability in Lebanon have forced thousands to flee the region.
A working paper released during Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to Cyprus to prepare for a crisis summit of Middle East bishops in Rome in October also cites the "extremist current" unleashed by the rise of "political Islam" as a threat to Christians.
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In his final Mass in Cyprus on Sunday, Benedict said he was praying that the October meeting will focus the attention of the international community "on the plight of those Christians in the Middle East who suffer for their beliefs."
The Vatican considers mostly Greek Orthodox Cyprus as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East and invited bishops to come to the Mediterranean island to receive the working paper to counter the exodus of thousands of Christians in recent years because of war and harsh economic conditions.
The Vatican estimates there are about 17 million Christians from Iran to Egypt, and that while many Christians have fled, new Catholic immigrants — mostly from the Philippines, India and Pakistan — have arrived in recent years in Arab countries to work as domestic or manual laborers.
The 46-page document said input from clerics in the region blamed the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories for inhibiting freedom of movement, the economy and religious life, alleging that access to holy places is dependent on military permission that is sometimes denied on security grounds.
It said "emigration is particularly prevalent" because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also blamed the "menacing social situation" in Iraq and political instability in once heavily Christian Lebanon.
A further exodus of Christians from the Holy Land would be a great loss to the church in the "very place where (Christianity) was born," it said.
It said the rise of "political Islam" in Arab, Turkish and Iranian societies and its extremist currents are "clearly a threat to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike."
With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism "attacks against Christians are increasing almost everywhere," it said.
It complained that Muslims often make no distinction between religion and politics "thereby relegating Christians to the precarious position of being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they were citizens of their countries long before the rise of Islam."