Vatican synod mulls Middle East Christian exodus
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
PARIS (Reuters) - With Christianity dwindling in its Middle Eastern birthplace, Pope Benedict has convened Catholic bishops from the region to debate how to save its minority communities and promote harmony with their Muslim neighbours.
For two weeks starting on Sunday, the bishops will discuss problems for the faithful ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and strife in Iraq to radical Islamism, economic crisis and the divisions among the region's many Christian churches.
They come from local churches affiliated with the Vatican, but the relentless exodus of all Christians -- Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants -- has prompted them to take a broad look at the challenges facing all followers of Jesus there.
While conditions for Christians vary from country to country, the overall picture is dramatic. Christians made up around 20 percent of the region's population a century ago, but now account for about five percent and falling.
"If this phenomenon continues, Christianity in the Middle East will disappear," said Rev. Samir Khalil Samir, a Beirut-based Egyptian Jesuit who helped draw up the working documents for the October 10-24 synod at the Vatican.
"This is not an unreal hypothesis -- Turkey went from 20 percent Christian in the early 20th century to 0.2 percent now," he told journalists in Paris. The Christian exodus since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion "could bleed the Church in Iraq dry."
CALL FOR CHANGE
Instead of simply appealing for more aid to Catholics in the region, the experts who prepared the synod call for sweeping social changes to bring forth democratic secular states, interfaith cooperation and a rollback of advancing Islamism. Continued...