For decades, Arab Christians have been fleeing the Holy Land and the rest of the Middle East in droves, mainly because of violence. Some 70 high-ranking Arab church leaders, together with their Western counterparts, and Muslim clerics gathered in Amman for a meeting this past week aimed at tackling "the challenges of Arab Christians."
- Catholic News Service
Within the past two-and-a-half years, some 450,000 Christians are believed to be among the two million people who have fled the civil war in Syria, an ancient land of historic churches, the country where St Paul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus.
The Christian and Muslims leaders at the meeting aimed to find a way to end the sectarian strife threatening their people and countries.
"We must confront extremist trends," Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told the gathering. He said it was the duty of religious leaders and their communities to work jointly "to get the new generation to accept 'the other,'" in order to "isolate these trends."
Sheik Aref Nayed, a Libyan Muslim theologian, challenged participants to consider what factors help create extremist groups in the first place and whether religious leaders may have also failed to protect their people against government-sanctioned violence.
"Did Sunni clerics support the Syrian people in their initial peaceful protests?" he asked.
He questioned whether Arab church and mosque leaders failed to stand up against regimes and rebels while their congregations were massacred.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, drew attention to how American religious moderates have "got the back" of Muslims in the United States.
"When (American) Christian fundamentalists attack Muslims, we immediately say this is not the response of Christians. We want to see moderate Muslims do the same thing for Christians in the Middle East," Cardinal McCarrick told the assembly, which included distinguished clergy from Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches in the Middle East.