Please don’t leave, Middle East church leaders beg Christians

Source: Christian Today

September 6, 2016

Reuters Orthodox Christian nuns take part in an annual procession at the end of August along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City, during which an icon of the Virgin Mary is carried from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to a church at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the site of the tomb of Jesus' mother Mary.
Reuters Orthodox Christian nuns take part in an annual procession at the end of August along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City, during which an icon of the Virgin Mary is carried from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to a church at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the site of the tomb of Jesus’ mother Mary.

Christians living in the Palestinian territories and
elsewhere in the Middle East will this week be urged not
to flee from the region as persecution intensifies.

Church leaders who will meet beside the Dead Sea are
expected to urge Palestinians in particular to stay put
despite the severity of the challenges they face.

Father Issa Misleh, of Jerusalem’s Orthodox Church,
and spokesman for the Middle East Council of Churches,
told The Jordan Times that if Christians left the Middle
East as a result of the growing terrorism, the outlook
will be dire for the territories.

“This would be the end of the Palestinian
cause.”

The eleventh session of the council, which opens today, is
expected to conclude with a message of “stay” to
Palestinians but also to other Christians in the region.

The council, which represents Evangelical, Anglican,
Orthodox and Catholic Christians of the Middle East, will
also discuss relations between the different Christian
churches and between Christians and Muslims.

“We want to embody the values we have been talking
of,” said Misleh.

The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem,
Theophilos III, has stood down as head of the council and
a new president will be elected.

Numbers of Christians in the region have plummeted since
the rise of Islamic State and the terrible executions,
tortures, rapes and other horrors that the hundreds of
thousands of IS victims have been subjected to.

There are now just 40,000 Christians remaining among the
4.5 million people who live in the Palestinian
Territories, listed at 24 on the Open Doors persecution watch list.

Open Doors says: “Christians are squeezed in the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, their ethnicity causing many
restrictions from the Israeli side and their religion
putting them in a minority position within the Palestinian
community. The territories are effectively under different
governments.

“The West Bank’s ruling Fatah party is formally
based on secular principles, and Christians enjoy several
rights. Though Christians are largely tolerated by
Islamist Hamas, the rights of Christians are neither
upheld nor protected in Gaza. Apart from this
discrimination, Christians face threats from radical
Islamic vigilante groups. The total number of Christians
has been decreasing in both areas over time due to
emigration and lower birth rates. A ray of hope is the
small but growing number of converts from Islam to
Christianity.”

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