Author: Annie Laurent
Title: Les chrétiens d’Orient vont-ils disparaître? Entre souffrance et espérance
Publisher: Salvator, Paris 2008
While in 2006 œuvre d’Orient was celebrating its one hundred and fifty years of service on behalf of the Christians of the Near East, the following question posed itself in a more dramatic fashion than ever before: will they disappear? Annie Laurent, who has a maîtrise in international law and a state doctorate in political science, intends to answer this question as a faithful witness to the sufferings and the hope of those Christians. Her thesis on ‘The Lebanon and its Neighbouring Countries’, written with Antoine Basbous and published in 1987 under the title Guerres secrètes au Liban, and her constancy in publishing Libanoscopie during her five-year stay in a Lebanon ‘lacerated’ in a thousand ways, led her to dwell upon the fate of the Christian communities of that Near East that she has learnt to love and towards which she wants to demonstrate solidarity. Subject to a demographic decline and a strong emigration linked in part to the worsening of socio-political discriminations in the region and to an Israeli ¬policy of exclusion, the Christians of the East need, ¬today more than ever before, to be better known about and above all to be supported in their specific vocation. Hence the importance of this book which has an introduction by H.E. Msgr. Sleiman, the Archbishop of Baghdad of the Latins.
The first chapter deals with ‘Eastern Christianity in all its Forms’ and analyses in turn its origins and its expansion, its organisation and its divisions. One should, in fact, distinguish between the Nestorian adventure, the monophysite option, the atypical Armenian experience, the Maronite exception, the Greek fracture, the Latin enculturation, and Protestantism, the last to arrive. The second chapter examines ‘The Christians of the East between Islam and Israel’ because such indeed is the uncomfortable situation in which they find themselves. Christians underwent dhimmitude (the condition of not-Islamic citizens in classic Islamic societies. Translator’s note) and for this reason it is not always easy ‘to be Christians’ in those countries of the most diversified recent histories: Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and the Lebanon, constitute, in fact, situations which are equally paradoxical.
One comes lastly to the history of Israel which compels a declaration on Judaism and Zionism, above all when one is ‘a Christian in Israel’ or when one is dealing with dialogue between Jews and Christians. The third chapter addresses ‘The Challenge of Unity’ which everyone has to face. Some meetings that took place after the Second Vatican Council encouraged all the faithful to work ‘for a Catholic fraternity’. A certain ‘topicality of eastern ecumenism’ is fortunately finding implementation and Catholics in this have a special mission. Will ‘the ecclesiological knot’ be dealt with by taking into account eastern claims and Roman concerns? Annie Laurent is not afraid to ask questions about certain ‘promising signs’ in this direction. The pages headed ‘In the Hour of Hope’ would like to give new hope to everyone, to Christians, to Muslims and to Jews, who are called today to overcome rancour, prejudice and distrust in order to restore to Jerusalem its true meaning as the City of Peace and the Open City, in order to respond better to the appeal of the great prophets of Israel. Faithful to Jesus Christ who in that place revealed his divine mercy, the Christians of the East are thus invited by this book to take new heart and those of the West are invited to know them better and to help them more, not least because new international Christian presences in the countries of the Gulf and in the Arab peninsula provoke hope that there will be new possibilities of dialogue and cooperation between Muslims and Christians.
In her conclusion Annie Laurent rightly quotes what the Council of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East stated in 1991 in a pastoral letter addressed to the faithful, entitled ‘A Decisive Time for the Churches of the Middle East’: ‘The difficult situations that we are faced with should not push people to flee… They must, rather, lead us back to the roots of our faith in order to find in it strength, constancy, self-confidence and hope, remembering the words of Our Lord: ‘”Do not be afraid, little flock”. The Church… does not rely on statistics but on the awareness that her children have of their vocation and their mission’.