The Pope could set an important sign for the peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Mandeans and Baha'is in the Middle East

Benedict XVI expected in Lebanon (September 14th to 16th)

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) welcomes the upcoming three-day visit of Pope Benedict XVI in Lebanon. "During his visit to multi-ethnic and multi-religious Lebanon, the head of the Roman Catholic Church could set an important sign for a peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Mandaeans and Baha'is in the Middle East – against the backdrop of the escalation of violence in Syria, sectarian tensions in Lebanon and attacks on Christians in Iraq and Egypt – said the STP's Middle East expert, Kamal Sido, in Göttingen on Thursday. On Saturday, the Pope will hold talks with the President and the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Michel Suleiman and Najib Mikati, before meeting various religious leaders of the country. 

"There is great hope that Pope Benedict might be able to help alleviate the plight of the many Christian refugees from Syria and to support the Christian host families in Lebanon," said Sido. More and more Christians are leaving neighboring Syria, which is stricken by a civil war. Most of them seek refuge in Lebanon, their number having increased to at least 7,000. The refugees are housed in Lebanese Christian communities near the Mediterranean coast in the north of the country. Around 1,000 Christian families from Syria have found shelter there already. "But often the Syrian refugees don't receive all the help they need, because the Lebanese state is anxious to get involved in the bloody civil war in Syria," said Sido. "Also, the Lebanese government will not set up any refugee camps, for fear that they might turn into rebel strongholds."

The situation in the Middle East is difficult for Christians and other non-Muslim religious communities. The Christian part of the population has decreased dramatically due to conversions to Islam, emigration, war and the genocide of the Armenians and Assyrian Aramaic from 1915 to 1918. In 1900, their numbers ranged at around 20 percent in Egypt, 30 percent in Syria and more than 50 percent in Lebanon. Today, only about seven percent of the Egyptians are Christians – ten percent in Syria and two percent in Iraq. In Lebanon, the number has fallen to less than 50 percent of the population. Therefore, the chances that Christians are politically represented in these states are very limited.