PARIS (CNS) — The exodus of Christians from the Middle East — due to wars, conflicts, socio-economic crises and persecution — will weaken moderate Islam “which, thanks to the Islamic-Christian conviviality, is so far the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East,” said Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai.
Speaking at UNESCO in Paris April 25, the cardinal, who is patriarch of Maronite Catholics, said Christians were “irreplaceable peacemakers” and, without them, “Islam will fall into the hands of fundamentalists.” He called on Europe and the international community “to ensure that Christians remain in their countries.”
The first condition to save this presence, he said, is “the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The speech at UNESCO was on the first day of a four-day visit to France, where the cardinal inaugurated the new Maronite Diocese in Meudon, outside of Paris. There are approximately 85,000 Maronite Catholics in France.
In his speech, the cardinal pleaded for an end to the ongoing conflicts, particularly in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, “through political negotiations and dialogue between the conflicting parties.”
“Stop supporting the belligerents with arms and money,” he urged. Instead, he said, “It is essential to assist countries in the region to emerge from the bloody conflicts that consume them, peoples and civilizations.”
Cardinal Rai also spoke on behalf of people uprooted from their homes in the region.
“I came to UNESCO to bring the voice of those who had it taken from them. I come here to vouch for the plight of millions of refugees, displaced people, children and seniors, women and men who lost loved ones, who had their country and property stolen, their future destroyed,” he said.
Lebanon is now hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. In April, Antonio Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said that would be the equivalent of 80 million refugees entering the United States.
Thousands of Christian Iraqi families have also come to Lebanon since the Islamic State’s takeover of Mosul and the Ninevah Plain last summer.
Prior to the influx of refugees, approximately 33 percent of Lebanon’s existing population of about 4 million was Christian. That sectarian equation has shifted, as most of the Syrian refugees are Muslim.
Cardinal Rai was scheduled to meet French President Francois Hollande April 28. High on the agenda, in addition to the crisis of the Christian presence in the region, was Lebanon’s presidential vacuum. Under Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the post is reserved for a Maronite but has been vacant since May, when the term of Michel Sleiman ended without the election of a successor due to ongoing disputes between rival political parties over a compromise candidate.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103