Christians in the Middle East
are strangers in a strange land, even though they were born there. Whereas in
Israel they live in a Jewish state and society, in all the other countries they
live in Muslim states and societies. So, even though they are descendants of the
original inhabitants of the land, they are made to feel that they don't fit in
That's according to Monsignor Robert Stern, the president of the
Pontifical Mission for Palestine and leader of the CNEWA, the papal arm for
humanitarian support in the Middle East.
Mons. Robert L.
Stern President, Pontifical Mission for Palestine Secretary General,
CNEWA In Islam they are considered People of the
Book, Christian and Jews, and therefore they are respected as frontrunners of
Islam but not fully conforming to the Will of God. And they are second class
citizens, and they have a unique status. And in Israel of course, in a Jewish
state, if you are not a Jew, even though it's a democratic society, in fact they
are second class citizens as well.
During a meeting of the Equestrian
Order of the Holy Sepulchre, mons. Stern pointed out that due to the exodus of
Christians from all over the Middle East, their numbers might drop from about 13
million to 6 million during the next 15 years.
Mons. Robert L.
Stern President, Pontifical Mission for Palestine In Israel maybe 2% of the population is Christian, in the Palestinian
Territories is 1%.... Egypt is at least a big country there's probably 10%, or
close to that in Syria as well. But it used to be, if you go back to history,
100%! So, what we are really seeing over the centuries is an accelerating
movement of Christians away from that part of the world. And rapidly
accelerating in modern times and in the last few
For more than a thousand years, the Vatican has
supported these Christian minorities with particular interest: living stones of
the Holy Places.
Mons. Robert L. Stern President, Pontifical Mission
for Palestine I feel that the Christians can be a sort
of bridge: because in most of the countries there are Arabs, but there are not
Muslims, and they can be a connection between the modern societies of the
Western world, and the emerging societies, so to speak into modern terms, in the
Islamic world, because there are Arabs and there are Christians. And of
course they bring a point of view: some of the teachings of Jesus, that are
badly needed in that part of the world: things like the freedom of conscience
and religion, things like reconciliation and forgiveness, these are rooted in
the teachings of the Lord.
The Vatican is doing its best to ensure that
Christians in their own land can survive. But there's more awareness that nobody
can stop them from looking for a better future in Europe or America for their
families and children.
Mons. Robert L. Stern President, Pontifical
Mission for Palestine I think one of the challenges is
to facilitate the movements of people, to facilitate the immigration, to be more
generous in accepting new comers, to assist resettlement of Middle Eastern
people in Western countries: this is a big and a very touching political
And there are great expectations for the upcoming visit of
Pope Benedict XVI to the Holy Land next year.
Mons. Robert L.
Stern President, Pontifical Mission for Palestine Well, it's a great shot in the arm for them! It's exciting because when the Pope
comes, the whole world follows him. I was there when Pope John Paul II came:
in that moment everybody in the Holy Land, Muslim, Jew, Christians,
everybody spent the whole day watching this white little man in a white robe
praying and talking and offering Masses, visiting people and it was a moment of
peace in the midst of the storm...I hope that pope Benedict will be the
same: he's Pontifex, the bridge-builder, I hope he's very pontifical when he's
there, I hope that his presence, his words and his prayer will bridge these
terrible gaps between groups, religion and politics.
It's a challenge which
will be the result of a tremendous diplomatic effort between the State of
Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican.