10/18/2006, 00.00
LEBANON
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Christian migration from Mid-East at heart of patriarchs' meeting

by Youssef Hourany

A meeting of the seven leaders of the eastern Churches opened yesterday in Lebanon. The leaders criticized some Arab states that treated Christians as second class citizens and fundamentalist groups that portrayed them as linked to the West.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – How to stop the emigration of Christians – guarantors of human rights – from the Middle East was the main topic of the first day of a meeting of the seven patriarchs of the East. The gathering opened yesterday in Bzoummar, the seat of the Armenian-Catholic patriarchate on Mount Lebanon. From the start, participants lamented conditions facing Christians in some Arab states, where they were treated as second class citizens, made to feel like "strangers in their homeland" and hence pushed to emigrate.

Significantly titled "The Church and the earth", the Ordinary Session of the meeting of the seven patriarchs of the East started yesterday, Tuesday 17 October, with an appeal to all Christians of the East. Ending on Friday, the meeting gathers the following patriarchs: Maronite, Nasrallah Sfeir, Greek-Melchite, Gregory III Laham, Coptic, Antonios Nagib, Syrian-Catholic, Boutros VIII Abdel Ahad, Latin of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, Chaldean, Emmanuel III Delly, as well as the host, the Armenian Catholic patriarch, Narsis Bedros XIX.

The Apostolic Nuncio in Lebanon, Mgr Luigi Gatti, greeted the patriarchs and underlined the importance and meaning of the chosen topic. He also stressed the value of the Christian presence in this land, because "Christians must understand that their staying is the only guarantee of the survival of symbolic values of independence, pluralism, denominational balance and respect for human rights". The pontifical representative expressed hope that dialogue would be strengthened, as it is the only means capable of fighting fear, anguish and neglect.

In his opening address, the Armenian-Catholic patriarch talked much about the hidden danger in the emigration of Christians from the Middle East. He insisted on the value of the Christian presence in the region, consisting of testimony and mission. He indicated wars and social crises as the main historical reasons for migration that has affected all religious families of the East. But Narsis Bedros XIX also hit out at the approach of some Arab countries that treated Christians like second class citizens, making them feel like "strangers in their homeland". This attitude was caused by a lack of trust in Christians, who are often thought to be linked to the West and to be somehow less Arabic than their compatriots. Moreover, due to the action of fundamentalist groups, continued the Armenian Catholic patriarch, we are faced with violence and persecution against Christians, their churches and their assets, to force them to leave their land of origin and to emigrate. To this must be added the incentives offered by countries that need their presence.

The patriarch closed his speech by reiterating the need of keeping the Christian presence alive in the East and of highlighting their cause in the international community. Key to the struggle is immediate solutions for the prevalent unemployment crisis, to give Christians the jobs they deserve.

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