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Christians in the Muslim World

Christians against the tide

Interview with Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who participated in the meeting between leaders and representatives of the Middle East Churches. The fundamentalism and prosecution of Christians, the Israel-Palestinian crisis which had never been faced previously, as well as the Syrian war which makes the risk of a post conflict even more explosive.

“We are going against the tide. It is a constant struggle which the search for truth requires”. His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem was in Amman to meet the heads and representatives of Oriental Churches, convoked by the King of Jordan, to reflect on the difficulties that Arab Christians are facing today and which are reasons for very serious preoccupations also for Abdullah II. “It is urgent to correct the religious discourse of many imams who, from the mosques, call for violence against non Muslims. It is also necessary to modify the constitution of some countries where Christians do not have the same rights to all the citizens.



Meanwhile, the Middle East is losing Christians, who are constantly emigrating.


We Christians are a bit spoiled: at the first danger we quickly pack our bags because we know that we will be welcomed in Western countries. And certainly we are encouraged by the fact that other Christians have succeeded economically in the exodus. But I reaffirm that if this land in the Middle East is dear to us, it must be so in bad as well as in good.



How do you view from Jerusalem the internal conflict of Muslims which is spreading in the Middle East?


It is a great suffering. We are dramatically worried about the American threat to bomb Syria. All Syrian bishops emphasize that the persecution of Christians by the rebels is a fact. But for me there is also another painful question. The focus of attention has moved. There is no longer anyone who talks of the Israeli military occupation, of the wall, of the lack of freedom, of access to the holy places. Yet, our situation has not improved, from being exceptional it has simply become normal.



In these last month the American Secretary of States has again tried to start up the talks on peace. But on what is this dialogue and possible understanding to be based?


A short time ago I met king Abdullah and he was optimistic. He holds that if an agreement is not reached during Obama’s mandate, it will never come about. However, I would like to emphasize that a dialogue is not an aim in itself, but it is a means of reaching a solution.



The solution of two states, always upheld by the Holy See, now seems impossible, because of the new settlements. Some think a new state would be the solution. What do you think?


I don’t think that the hypothesis of two states has been overcome. Let us say to Israel: if you want two states, give the space to make them. Otherwise let us make just one democratic state. Of course, with the risk that within a few years the president will be a Palestinian. But I think that the Israeli government prefers to manage the conflict rather than solve it.



Can the situation in Syria cause this ‘management’ of Israel to explode?


The Israeli fear Assad, but they are more afraid of what will come after. I am certain.



What do you think it will happen in the nearby Syria?


It is an illusion to think that the American programme of aimed attacks will be surgically functional. The war will strengthen Jihadi mercenaries. Therefore I repeat my “no to war”, but yes to a political solution. It is not usually the rebels but the army that causes a government to fall in Arab countries. Up to now there has been hundred thousand deaths, without counting the thousands of refugees, to change a leader who is still in good health.



Jerusalem remains the heart of the history.


The Jerusalem I know is now a Jerusalem that unites the believers all over the world and at the same time divided them. It is a city of contradictions, but maybe my successor will see peace, not me.