Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Christian Faith in Palestine and the Middle East Today

This article is from the July edition of CTE News:

The volatile and precarious situation of Christians in the Middle East was of deep concern to the members of the February 2011 meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee, and it was highlighted in a conference on Christians in the Middle East held in Greece. 

With the diminishing presence of Christians in the region, the central committee said in a public statement in February, the “conviviality among peoples from different faiths, cultures, civilizations, which is a sign of God’s love for all humanity, will be endangered.”  The central committee also called for a major conference on this issue for 2012.  One part of this effort was the conference in Volos, Greece, from 20 to 22 June to explore the situation from a theological, ecumenical, cultural and political perspective. 
The reality for the Christian community in the Middle East is quite stark as more and more stories in the public media tell of Christians fleeing the region or feeling increasingly threatened, even in the context of the recent democracy movements. In Iraq alone the Christian population has declined by nearly half during the past decade. In Egypt, there has been heightened violence between Muslims and Christians since the downfall of former president Mubarak.  And in Israel and Palestine, Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Gaza continue to live under the pressure and humiliation of the Gaza blockade and Israeli occupation. 

Christian churches in the Middle East have shown signs of decline despite their continuous historical presence in different countries in the region where many of them embody a heritage of ancient patriarchal jurisdictions. This has become a growing concern as the churches there struggle to maintain their presence and at the same time contribute to a culture of peace. 
The Volos conference was co-sponsored by the WCC and Volos Academy for Theological Studies, which is a programme of the Holy Metropolis of Demetrias. Titled “Living Christian Faith in Palestine and the Middle East Today: Theological and Political Challenges in Orthodox and Ecumenical Perspectives”, its participants explored the theological, ecumenical and political perspectives of living as a Christian in the Middle East.  
A subsequent visit by the WCC youth body, Echos Commission, to Lebanon to explore how Christian youth are dealing with the realities of the church in the Middle East will take place in October. The WCC central committee has recommended “convening an ecumenical international conference in 2012 to address the new challenges Christians are facing in the Middle East, in collaboration with the churches in the region.”

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