The Catholic Pope went to Iraq in March 2021 to visit the land that used to be home to nearly two million Christians. A country which was at one time an example of coexistence, routed its Jews in the 1940’s and 1950’s and other religious communities over the past decades. The Christian population has plummeted by 80 per cent.
Upon arriving in Iraq, Pope Francis said “Iraq has suffered the disastrous effects of wars, the scourge of terrorism and sectarian conflicts often grounded in a fundamentalism incapable of accepting the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups.” He used the term “fundamentalism” without tying it to Islam, so as to not offend his hosts and trying to build bridges to salvage the remains of the Christian community.
No one is confused about the situation.
Open Doors, a Christian advocacy group, published its 2021 World Watch List highlighting the 50 worst countries for Christians. Other than North Korea (#1) and India (#10), all of the worst anti-Christian countries had a Muslim majority. Not surprisingly, almost all of these countries have seen their Christian populations decline.
Yet, about 500 miles away from Iraq, next to war-torn Syria, lies the new Garden of Eden, a sanctuary for Christians in the center of the Middle East/ North Africa (MENA): the Jewish State of Israel.
When the Modern State of Israel was founded in 1948, there were 34,000 Christians in the country. That number has grown by 5.2 times, to 177,000 today. It is a rate higher than the growth of the Christian population worldwide and dwarves the rate of change of Christians in the MENA region.
Christian tourists also love visiting Israel. In 2018, Christians made up 56% of the tourists visiting the modern Jewish State. The country actively encourages Christians to come visit to see the birthplace of Christianity and visit sacred sites.
In 2015, the Christian community built a new museum in the heart of Israel’s capital of Jerusalem, the Friends of Zion Museum. It is designed to “tell the stories of both the dream to restore the Jewish people to their historic homeland and of the brave non-Jews who assisted them in the realization of this dream.” It is a feat of religious harmony enabled by the Israeli government in Judaism’s most holy city. It stands in sharp contrast to the treatment of Christians and Christianity elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Pope’s tour of the Muslim Middle East is a reminder to Christians everywhere of the uniqueness of the one Jewish State and reasons to continue its commitment to see Israel thrive.
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