Crisis at the Crossroads of faith
The impact of extremism on Christians in the Middle East was laid bare by a leading Vatican expert on Islam who appealed for action to safe-guard the Church’s continued presence in a region where its survival is under threat.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Fr. Samir Khalil Samir spelled out the problem of extremism – both in the Middle East and the West.
Focusing mostly on the Middle East, the Egyptian-born Jesuit based in Lebanon categorized countries in the region according to a sliding scale of anti-Christian oppression, with Saudi Arabia being the worst.
Fr. Samir, who is coordinating preparations for this autumn’s Middle East Synod of Bishops, in Rome, said, “Christians in Saudi Arabia cannot even gather in their houses to pray. This is the worst situation, where human rights are practically unknown.”
Underlining how in many parts of the Middle East Christians have dwindled to a tiny minority, he went on, “For many, the only solution is emigration – proselytism, announcing Christ to everybody, is forbidden. There is no equality.”
Fr. Samir described how starting at the end of the 1960s some Middle East countries, especially Saudi Arabia, took advantage of new-found oil wealth to bankroll militant Wahabi Islam, which, he said, has been spread far and wide, including to the West.
“They built mosques, mostly paid by Saudi Arabia but also Teheran, sending with the mosques preachers and imams, and they gave them this very narrow vision of Islam.”
Underlining a dramatic move towards Christian oppression dating back to the 1970s, Fr. Samir went on to stress the need for dialogue with Islam, underlining that the Middle East faithful played an indispensible role in this area.
He said, “The question is: ‘Who is able to dialogue with Islam?’ In fact, although the situation is hard for Arab Christians, the main people dialoguing with Muslims and bringing change are precisely the Arab Christians.
“We are involved in dialogue every day. We work together, we go to school together.”
The priest, who has established 20 schools and authored at least 40 books, underlined the need for joint projects with Muslims, aimed at breaking down ignorance and mistrust and promoting education.
Stating that Islam “is in crisis” amid growing insecurity among Muslims about the
relationship between faith and modernity, he nonetheless made clear that theological discussion was extremely difficult because of differing views on Jesus Christ and the Bible, as well as the Prophet Mohammed and the Qur’an.
Fr. Samir, who is a university professor in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, Paris, as well as the Gregorian, in Rome, said, “We need your help – we need your spiritual help, your prayer to support people in a region where there is oppression. We need your support for projects which promote education and peace.”
With picture of Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, SJ
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
For more information contact Michael Varenne at email@example.com or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org