Long before the cathedrals of Europe, before American missionaries and the TV mega-churches of Houston and California, early Christians put down deep roots in the Holy Land and across the Middle East.
Now, in the face of conflict and war — from Bethlehem to Iraq — waves of those ancient Christian communities are clearing out, packing up, leaving and going underground. From Jerusalem to Baghdad, an exodus is underway.
This hour On Point: in the heart of the Christian Holy Week, we talk with Middle Eastern Christians about the new exodus from the Holy Land.
Quotes from the Show:
"[The Christian community in the Middle East] is a community that was established right after the ascension of Christ, it is the community that spread Christianity to the rest of the world, it is a community that has taken a lot of hits, and it's considered itself to be the heart of Christianity." Yvonne Haddad
"[The exodus]'s something that's happening across the board, in all the countries of the region, but it's not terribly dramatic or terribly obvious. The numbers aren't overwhelming and it's not that these people are being persecuted and forced to leave for their lives. They're leaving for a variety of reasons, but they're leaving in sort of steady numbers and they're desperately trying to find a new life either in the States or Latin America. A tremendous number have gone to Australia and also some to Europe, although not a huge amount to Europe. They're just trying to leave and start over somewhere else." Gregory Katz
"In addition to the economic problems, you have the fact that the Christians [in Lebanon] feel that they are really out of power, in other words, they don't have a real voice in the government. So that's another reason why they've been leaving." Michael Kfouri
"Of course the occupation is one of the major reasons why the Palestinians aim to leave Palestine, and of course it affects Palestinian Christians as well. ... At this time there is no threat from Hamas in particular against any Palestinians, especially against minorities and against Christians." Buthina Canaan Khouri
"Their life [of Christians in Iraq] is difficult and they are almost kind of lost in the middle. They have no voice, they don't feel safe, they don't feel protected, they've been judged for so many reasons. ... Some [Iraqi] people think America is a Christian country so they associate Christian people of Iraq with United States, and people who are angry because of this war and invasion that happened since 2003, they try to kind of punish the Christians because of that." Sister Olga
"The Christians have been getting out of the Middle East since the end of the last century, and the main reason has been economic hardship." Listener from Boston, MA
Gregory Katz, Middle East Bureau Chief for the Houston Chronicle
Sister Olga, a diocese hermit in the Roman Catholic Church and a campus minister at the Boston University Catholic Center
Yvonne Haddad, Professor of the History of Islam and Christian Muslim Relations at Georgetown University and author of the forthcoming "Vanishing Minority: Christians in the Middle East"
Michael Kfouri, a Lebanese Maronite Christian
Buthina Canaan Khouri, a Greek Orthodox Palestinian.
This program aired on April 5, 2007.