1-February-2013 -- EWTNews Feature |

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'More Christians will leave Middle East,' charity leader predicts

The chairman of an international Catholic charity thinks that persecuted Christians will continue leaving the Middle East in the coming years.

"This is a question of political and social changes, but humanly speaking, more Christians will leave those countries," said Aid to the Church in Need's current chairman, Antonia Willemsen, at an event for the death of the charity's founder.

"All parents want what is best for their children, and if they see that they themselves are discriminated in a certain country, they will vanish from those countries," Willemsen asserted.

Willemsen made her comments at a Jan. 31 event in Rome to remember the passing on to eternal life of the charity's founder, Father Werenfried van Straaten.

She pointed to Turkey as an example of a place where very few Christians remain.

A Syrian priest was also at the ceremony, and he offered his thanks for the work of the charity in his country.

"We appreciate (it) very much, and we're always praying for the people who help run Aid to the Church in Need," said Father Jihad Youssef, who belongs to the Al Khalil community of the monastery Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi, located near Damascus.

"We also appreciate people who give out of their money and their attention to their Christian brothers and sisters in Syria and everywhere in the world," he remarked.

Aid to the Church in Need is giving him, as well as several other religious, financial aid so he can study abroad.

"I'm personally very thankful to the Aid to the Church in Need because they have been very supportive," said the Syrian priest, who comes from a Maronite Catholic family.

"They have helped me study ever since I came to Rome," explained Fr. Youssef, who is studying Holy Scriptures at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

He said the charity is a very "human" organization that "has always helped us in Syria in two of our community's monasteries" in the Diocese of Homs.

According to Fr. Youssef, the Catholic charity is also helping many dioceses across the country.

"I know that they've helped a lot in the Diocese of Jazeera, in northwestern Syria," he said.

"I think Christians in the Middle East don't have a future unless we are opened to the Islamic context in which we live," said the Syrian priest.

"We have to be a Church for, not a Church against.

"If we believe in Christ there is no need to be afraid so we just have to give our hands to our Muslim brothers and live together as the Gospel and the spirit of Jesus lives in us, otherwise the Church in the Middle East will be gone with only traces remaining."

"We Christians are trying to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel and we believe that the Lord will help us."

Father Jamshed Gill, a Pakistani priest who is studying in Rome thanks to the charity, also related how Christians are being persecuted in his country.

"Since persecutions against Christians have started, we have become stronger in our faith," Fr. Gill declared.

"There are fundamentalists in Pakistan who start persecuting Christians if something happens anywhere in the world against Muslims because they link Christians to the West, especially to America, so they punish us for it," the priest explained.

Those retributions include Christian churches, schools and institutions being set on fire.

But he said the country's infamous blasphemy law is the "real persecution and against human dignity."

"The blasphemy law states if someone says anything against the prophet Muhammed, he is to die," he recalled.

"There are many incidents where Christians, and even Muslims, suffer because of this law.

"Sometimes people don't say anything, but people blame others for it out of hatred, jealousy, or for business reasons like land issues," said the Pakistani priest.

He noted that "it's the fundamentalists who act without thinking and kill anybody for saying something against the prophet, even if it's not true."

In Pakistan, 96 percent of the population is Muslim, three percent is Christian, and one percent is made up of other minorities, including Hindus and Sikhs.

"But we openly live our faith because we are not afraid to die and we want to witness Jesus," said Fr. Gill.

"We also need to be humble. And through education and awareness we can change the world and we hope for it," he added.

Aid to the Church in Need's chairman said the charity's most important challenge is to have dialogue in the Middle East.

"It is extremely difficult there, and the important thing is to have dialogue with Muslims and to know each other," said Willemsen.

"It is also important that priests are well-formed and learn Arabic so they can go there, but we also face problems with Muslims in the Philippines and in Africa," she added.

She noted that "it is almost a worldwide problem, so we should do what we can from our side."

"I discovered Fr. Werenfried's courage to do things and I've learned that you can promise huge amounts of money for a very needed project, even if you don't have it," said Willemsen.

"One should not rely on the certain things of this world, but on our Lord's blessings and on people's good hearts," she said.

Read more: http://www.ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/World.php?id=6945#ixzz2JgvmVKnN

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