BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Christian leaders called on members of the faith to cooperate with Muslims in what they described as a dangerous time for Christians in the region.
The remarks were made during an inaugural conference focusing on Christians in the Levant, which kicked off over the weekend. Secretary-general of the conference, Bishop Samir Mazloum, said the Christian faith was being threatened and Christians across the region were victims of injustice.
The bishop said the existence of Christians in the Arab world “is not only tied to faith, but to the fate of the region as well.”
Mazloum said Muslims had a responsibility to reassure Christians and not carry out political and social projects that might compromise the Christian community.
Mazloum added that it was important to find “a meeting space so Christians in the region can communicate with their churches and provide them with a platform during this dangerous time in history.”
The conference was held at the Center for Dialogue of Civilizations in the Metn town of Rabweh at the weekend.
The goal of the conference was to shed light on the political, social and economic situation of Christians in the region and the various hardships the community is facing.
President Michel Sleiman and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai were in attendance, as were caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Samir Moqbel and head of the Free Patriotic Movement Gen. Michel Aoun, as well as other ministers, members of Parliament, heads of churches and notable regional and international figures.
Absent were Christian officials from the March 14 coalition.
Lebanese Forces MP Joseph Maalouf told The Daily Star Sunday that while he “respected the conference, it had a more political agenda than a religious one.”
Other officials contacted refused to or were unable to comment.
The conference “attempted to examine the current situation of the Christians in the Levant, as it is a stage marked by existential challenges affecting coexistence, which they’ve so far managed to achieve with their brothers from different religions, particularly Muslims,” Mazloum said.
Mazloum asserted that Christians in the Arab world were being discriminated against. More moderate Muslims, who represent the majority and are also threatened by extremism, should support the sect, the bishop added.
For his part, Rai called on Christians to maintain an active existence in the Middle East and continue to build ties within the community.
“We call for building peace in our hearts first, and then between the disputing parties through dialogue and negotiation, based on [principles of] truth and justice,” he said, adding that it was vital to maintain communication and cooperation with Muslims across the Arab world.
Rai stressed the need to raise awareness and renounce war and violence in favor of dialogue.
He also said there was a need to preserve the Christian faith in the Middle East and to address the pressing issue of emigration, so that Christians could further contribute to development in their countries of origin.
President Sleiman stressed that Lebanon was a country based on coexistence and equality, adding that dialogue was crucial in maintaining these founding principles.
“If Christianity falls in Lebanon, then it would signify the end of [Christianity] in the whole Middle East as well as in Asia and Africa,” Sleiman said.
“The matter of Christians in the Levant is the matter of every citizen, no matter the sect or religion he belongs to, who is working for freedom, justice, peace and development,” the president said.
He also said that it was important to spread “a culture of forgiveness” and preserve the historical origins of Lebanon’s multiculturalism, saying the situation of the Christians was acutely sensitive.