Advocates say action is needed to stop the hemorrhaging of Christians from their biblical homelands, particularly Lebanon and Iraq, as safety, poor governance and economic crises imperil their future.

Maronite Catholic Bishop Gregory Mansour, who heads the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York recounted Lebanon’s distinct history and religious mosaic while addressing a pair of panels at a national summit focusing on “Combating Oppression and Empowering the Oppressed” in Washington, D.C., Sept. 21 and 22. 

“Lebanon was created intentionally when (Maronite) Patriarch Elias Peter Hoayek, at the age of 76, traveled to Versailles (in 1919) to urge allied leaders to carve out a nation that would be a refuge for Christians and Muslims,”  Bishop Mansour explained. “He went with a delegation of Christians and Muslims with the vision of its borders including Shiites, Sunni Muslims, Druze and every kind of Christian.”

Bishop Mansour appealed for the preservation of Lebanon’s unique history and conviviality, warning that the Lebanon the world has known and loved “might not be there tomorrow if you don’t help the Catholic institutions, for instance, or if you don’t diminish some of Hezbollah, Iran or Saudi Arabia’s arm on Lebanon. We don’t want a Lebanon that looks like Saudi Arabia or Iran.”
Former Lebanese lawmaker Neemat Frem, who is working on a project examining how to rebuild Lebanon’s governance and decision-making processes, told the gathering he is willing to give the new government two months to see how it will deal with the International Monetary Fund’s discussions on structural changes to the banking sector and the economy as well as government decision-making regarding Hezbollah and other political forces.

He warned that Lebanon’s failed state is a silent killer, causing an exodus of Christians from the country because of deteriorating living conditions. “This is alarming. This will forever change Lebanon,” Frem cautioned. “This is why we need to act now.”

Habib Malik, a professor at Lebanese American University, said Lebanon is “losing its youth to galloping emigration” due to the economic, political and governance problems engulfing the country.

“It’s Christian youth primarily, along with entire Christian families (that) are packing and leaving permanently,” Malik said. “This will render Lebanon indistinguishable from its Arab surroundings in terms of the absence of basic freedoms and pluralist coexistence.”

Nadine Maenza, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told the summit: “Christians in the Middle East are struggling. They don’t have the kind of support that they need.”

Maenza applauded aid organisations  for helping to rebuild homes on the Ninevah Plain, which had been overrun by Islamic State militants. But she said the security situation is so terrible that many Christians can’t live there. The same is true for Syria, she said.