BEIRUT: Christian figures of the Levant will hold coordination meetings on a regular basis, citing concern over a growing threat to Christianity in Lebanon and across the Arab world. The organizers – a group of Christian religious and political figures – called for the protection and preservation of Christianity in the Levant amid deteriorating security and regional conflict and are expected to hold a new round of talks in early October.
Bishop Samir Mazloum, representative of Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, said the gathering – dubbed the Preparatory Committee for the Christians of the Levant Convention – was particularly significant as it called for Christian unity during a very fragile time.
“Primarily, the goal is to unify Christians,” Mazloum said, adding that efforts to maintain peace between all religions in Lebanon would follow.
“Christians need to be faithful and ethical, and strive with all of their abilities toward reconciliation and bringing each other closer together,” he said.
Former Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli, who was present at the committee’s first meeting Monday, stressed that the sovereignty of Christians in Lebanon was at risk, and the aim of the gathering was to try to ensure “cooperation between sects to formulate an agreement on commonalities.”
The committee held its first meeting in the Kesrouan town of Beit Anya in Harissa in an effort to preserve and protect the religion in Lebanon and the Arab world, and called for Christians to stand together.
Ferzli said the meeting was intended to fall on the anniversary of the establishment of the state of Greater Lebanon on Sept. 1, 1920.
The meeting lasted seven hours and was attended by religious figures and representatives of the different Christian churches in Lebanon.
Many strategic questions pertaining to the roles of Christians both in Lebanon and the region in light of the recent security situation in the country and the conflict in neighboring Syria were raised.
Ferzli also said the meeting was aimed at accomplishing common objectives not only between the different Christian sects but among other religions in Lebanon as well.
“What [the committee] is interested in is acting on common objectives, and creating a culture of finding common objectives,” Ferzli told The Daily Star.
The committee’s second meeting will take place on Oct. 7. Discussions of Lebanon’s sovereignty and the matter of safeguarding Christians in the region will resume.
Of the Christians in Syria, Bishop Mazloum said it was important they hold on their roots, but acknowledged that they desperately needed the help of Lebanese Christians.
“They have no capabilities,” he said. “They don’t have a freedom like ours, so we have to help them because we have a responsibility toward them.”
Syria’s Christians make up about 10 percent of the population, and many have joined pro-regime forces out of fear that President Bashar Assad will be toppled by Islamist rebels, some with links to Al-Qaeda.
Archbishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi of the Syriac Orthodox and the Greek Orthodox churches were kidnapped in Aleppo in April after returning from a humanitarian mission to retrieve two other kidnapped priests. Their fate remains unknown.
Similarly, Italian Jesuit priest Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio has been missing since July after he traveled to the northeastern city of Raqqa to negotiate the release of other kidnapped Christian figures with Islamist leaders. While there has been speculation that he has been killed, his fate is still a mystery.
Mazloum added that all Lebanese, Christians included, are currently at risk in light of the Syrian conflict spilling over into the country, and particularly due to the lack of initiative by the government, which is at a standstill.
A similar initiative was taken in July by a group of Lebanese Christians known as the Lady of the Mountain, mostly comprised of March 14 politicians and activists, under the theme “Christian and Muslim Unity,” and aimed at promoting coexistence and a culture of peace in Lebanon.
Heads of Christian churches in the Middle East also kicked off a two-day meeting Tuesday, sponsored by King Abdullah II, in the Jordanian capital of Amman on the theme “The Challenges Facing Arab Christians,” with former head of the Kataeb Party Karim Pakradouni representing Lebanon.
According to Vatican Radio, almost 70 patriarchs and their representatives will be discussing recent developments in the Arab world, predominantly in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Jordan. The Holy See is represented by the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.
Christians across the Middle East have long complained about unfair persecution directed against them. Fears gripped Iraqi Christians and forced them to flee their country following the U.S.-led invasion 10 years ago which led to them being targeted by militants.
Copts in Egypt, who make up to approximately 10 percent of the country’s population, fear Muslim hard-liners want to get rid of Christianity. Human Rights Watch have documented attacks on 42 churches and dozens of Christian institutions in the last month.