Mideast Christians facing growing persecution

img_606×341_030111s-christians-ana2.jpgFor Christians in the Middle East, there is no doubt that daily life has become more difficult. Many complain of attacks and persecution, forcing hundreds to flee their homes. Among the different Christian groups in the region, the Coptic Christians in Egypt is the largest, numbering some six million.

Attacks have also taken place on the homes of Iraqi Christians in recent months. Two people were killed and at least 16 wounded in attacks in Baghdad on New Year’s Eve. Al Qaeda-linked militants are suspected. This just two months after 52 people were killed when gunmen stormed the Syrian Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad.

There are some 15 million Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. In Lebanon, they represent a large slice of the population and have considerable political power. Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel and the West Bank are also among those with significant Christian populations.

The result of the persecution is an exodus. In Iraq, churches have gone from full to three-quarters empty in just a few years. Iraqi Christians once numbered about 1.5 million but are now believed to have fallen to less than half that.

The pope has urged Christian communities to “persevere in a non-violent manner”. He has condemned the bomb attack in Egypt as a “vile gesture of death … which offends God and all humanity”.

But finding refuge is not easy. Observers say Western countries have grown more reluctant to welcome persecuted Iraqi Christians, for example, with some governments stopping new arrivals.