Has their moment finally come? After this weekend, many Christians in the Middle East must feel their hope renewed.
Pope Benedict arrived in Lebanon on Friday, at a time when other foreign leaders might have cancelled their travel plans to the volatile region. Though civil wars and protests still dominate the headlines, the pontiff’s three-day trip drew attention to longstanding issues of insecurity, unemployment and religious persecution. For these reasons and others, Arab Christians are quietly but quickly leaving the lands where their faith was born. The Pope’s presence in Lebanon, along with the release of his highly anticipated message Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, aims to awaken the world to this Christian exodus.
My own awakening took place when I visited Bethlehem to film the S+L documentary Across the Divide, which will be screened at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa on Wednesday, September 19 at 7:15 pm.
When I introduced myself to students at Bethlehem University — the only Catholic university in the Holy Land — I would often hear in response, “You’re from Canada? My brother/sister/cousin is now living there!”
On one level, I was heartened to hear that, given the 23.5% unemployment rate in the West Bank, their loved ones made a livelihood in Canada. At the same time, I felt sadness, knowing that the Holy Land is impoverished by every Christian who emigrates.
Not one of the students I met would admit that they planned to leave their homeland. But privately, they all can’t help but wonder whether future conditions in the West Bank will allow them to stay.
Our new film, Across the Divide, introduces audiences to young Christians in the Holy Land and the difficult choices they face. Following the screening on Wednesday, there will be a panel discussion featuring Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, Carl Hétu from CNEWA Canada, and Salt + Light’s Fr. Thomas Rosica. For more information, including how to reserve your ticket, visit the Across the Divide website.