The Church’s Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria is underway. Wishing God’s gift of peace to all who live in the region, we hold a special place in our hearts for Christians in the Middle East. In recent times, they have become an endangered species in Jesus’ own land. But how much do we really know about Christians in the Middle East? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has put together a useful set of resources to allow us all to learn more about these brothers and sisters in the faith.
The complexity of the region is reflected in the multiplicity of Christian denominations in the Middle East. Even those in communion with Rome (for all intents, “Catholics”) are not a single unitary block. From the USCCB web site:
Seven Catholic Churches or "Rites," each bearing a great and ancient history with unique liturgical traditions and culture, comprise the universal Catholic Church in the Middle East. Each of these Catholic Churches is in full communion with Rome, but six with an Eastern tradition are sui iuris, or self-governing and have their own Patriarchs. All these Churches are Arabic-speaking and immersed in Arabic culture.
The USCCB goes on to provide capsule summaries of the seven sister churches in communion with Rome. They are:
- the Maronite Catholic Church (3 million members centered in Lebanon);
- the Roman Catholic Church (Latin Rite) (2.7 million members throughout Israel, the Arabian Peninsula and Kuwait);
- the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (750,000 members mostly in Lebanon and Syria, but also Jordan, Israel, Egypt and the Sudan);
- the Chaldean Catholic Church (almost 300,000 members in Iraq, and scattered throughout Syria, Lebanon and Jordan);
- the Coptic Catholic Church (almost 164,000 members in Egypt);
- the Syrian Catholic Church (140,000 members in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon); and
- the Armenian Catholic Church (over 50,000 members mostly in Lebanon and Syria, but also Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, and Israel).
As Archbishop Romero said, “There are many things that unite us,” as Christians. “For example, with the Eastern Churches—so many beautiful things. The first Councils that proclaimed and clarified the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation of God-made-man were convoked in an atmosphere of unity with the Eastern Churches,” Romero pointed out, emphasizing that behind divisions with some of the Eastern Churches occasioned by man-made history there was the commonality of faith. “Thus, today the word ‘Christian’ refers to that call to become part of this great family of unity.”
This occasion is an opportunity to learn more about our fellow Christians in the Middle East.