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Christians' plight in Middle East 'tragic,' says Catholic leader

From Rima Maktabi, CNN
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Meeting the Patriarch
  • Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir is the head of the Maronite Catholic church in Lebanon
  • Such is his influence that when he speaks, both Christians and Muslims listen
  • Sfeir: "Fundamentalism is not Islam because Islam ... promotes worshipping the goodness in life"
  • He says Middle East must make every effort for peace and "never for war"

(CNN) -- For a quarter of a century Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir has been Lebanon's most influential religious representative.

Patriarch Sfeir is the Head of the Maronite Catholic Church and such is his authority that when he speaks, both Christians and Muslims listen.

Now aged 90, Patriarch Sfeir rarely gives interviews but he made an exception for CNN's Inside the Middle East.

Here he talks about the issues facing Christians in the Middle East and how all Lebanese must make every effort for peace not war.

Patriarch Sfeir: The current situation of the Christians is tragic, by and large because many of them are leaving, especially those living in Iraq who travel to a much safer environment like the United States, Europe or elsewhere.

This is why they need to be reassured so they can go back to their brothers where they reside and to the governments who rule the lands.

CNN: Is there any clear number of the Christians in the Middle East?

PS: I don't have numbers, but it seems that the number of the Christians who (have) left Iraq is getting larger.

CNN: How can they encourage the Christians to stay in Iraq?

Christians need to be reassured so they can go back to their brothers where they reside.
--Patriarch Sfeir
  • Middle East
  • Lebanon
  • Christianity

PS: Of course we can't ask them to stay behind in Iraq where they are at if they are in inevitable danger. Because if they are daily facing the threats of being killed, expulsed and their homes are being demolished and they are living in fear ... no one can stay and live in constant threat, and that's why they are emigrating.

CNN: What about the Christians in Lebanon? What about their situation?

PS: All of Lebanon is worried, so the concern is not limited to the Lebanese Christians but everyone, Christians and non-Christians (are) feeling the angst. Therefore we hope that the situation will get better than what it is right now.

CNN: Did the Lebanese Christians lose their political, social and economic power because of demographics and immigration?

PS: Of course, the situation has changed. The Christians were the majority and they had a special role in Lebanon, but population growth changed the situation.

An average Christian family was satisfied with having three or four children, but a Muslim family would probably end up having 10 or 15 children, and this is a huge difference in terms of numbers between the two families.

This is why the Muslims outnumbered the Christians, not to mention that many Christians and some Muslims are emigrating to far off countries as well.

CNN: Why do you think Islamic fundamentalism is growing in this time and age?

PS: The spread of fundamentalism in this time and age has its concepts because the people assuredly abandoned the path of righteousness and benevolence and committed acts that are against justice and fairness. And that why this led some individuals to take action on their own.

This is not Islam because Islam is, of course, a religion that promotes worshipping the goodness in life, worshipping God and being fair to others.

CNN: Do you ever foresee Lebanon one day without a Christian president?

PS: I don't know. Maybe if things developed and the Christians became the minority one day, maybe. God knows.

CNN: Do you think this will happen anytime soon?

PS: This depends on the Lebanese themselves because if the number of the non-Christians in Lebanon keeps growing, and the number of Christians keeps shrinking maybe some voices will rise demanding a change in the presidency.

Our message is that the people must live among each other with respect and harmony and that everyone must make every effort for peace and never for war.