Lebanon Christians feel under siege but find hope in Pope Benedict’s visit

September 14, 2012

( St. George’s Maronite Cathedral and Mohammad al-Amin mosque side by side in central Beirut, 13 Sept 2012/Tom Heneghan)

In 1510, Pope Leo X thanked Divine Providence for having preserved the Maronite Christians through the hardest of times, “planted among infidels, schismatics and heretics as in a field of error”.

He described them as a “rose among thorns, an impregnable rock in the sea, unshaken by the waves and fury of the thundering tempest”.

Today, more than five centuries later, Pope Benedict will reassert this message in a three-day visit to Lebanon.

His visit comes at a time when Christians in the region feel their existence threatened by the rise of political Islam. It also coincides with violent protests in Libya and Egypt against film, made in the United States, that is insulting to Islam.

In this small country where, uniquely in the Arab world, Christians have held the political reins since independence in 1943, the Christian communities feel menaced.

Across the Arab world, Christians feel like a species facing extinction, threatened by Islamist fanatics, driven by a lack of opportunity at home to seek better lives abroad, and now fearful of the post-revolution order which in some countries has brought Islamists to power.

Christians now make up about 5 percent of the Middle Eastern population, down from 20 percent a century ago. If current pressures and their low birth rates continue, some estimates say their 12 million total could be halved by 2020.

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