May 13, 2009
Christians in Mideast Losing Numbers and Influence
By ETHAN BRONNER
JERUSALEM — Christians used to be a vital force in the Middle East. They dominated Lebanon and filled top jobs in the Palestinian movement. In Egypt, they were wealthy beyond their number. In Iraq, they packed the universities and professions. Across the region, their orientation was a vital link to the West, a counterpoint to prevailing trends.
But as Pope Benedict XVI wends his way across the Holy Land this week, he is addressing a dwindling and threatened Christian population driven to emigration by political violence, lack of economic opportunity and the rise of radical Islam. A region that a century ago was 20 percent Christian is about 5 percent today and dropping.
Since it was here that Jesus walked and Christianity was born, the papal visit highlights a prospect many consider deeply troubling for the globe’s largest faith, adhered to by a third of humanity — its most powerful and historic shrines could become museum relics with no connection to those who live among them.
Christians have inhabited the Middle East ever since, well, Christianity began, starting in Palestine, working through modern Jordan and Syria to Babylon (Iraq) fairly quickly. This reminds me of a book I have not read by Philip Jenkins (from Penn State) on Christianity in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Too often in Euro-American studies we neglect the varieties of Christianity that do not come from Latin and Greek traditions.