The Holy Land’s bishops have said that Christians and Muslims need to unite against extremism, stressing that people of all beliefs are at risk.
“Christians and Muslims need to stand together against the new forces of extremism and destruction,” the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said in an April 2 statement posted on the website of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
“All Christians and many Muslims are threatened by these forces that seek to create a society devoid of Christians and where only very few Muslims will be at home,” the assembly continued. “All those who seek dignity, democracy, freedom and prosperity are under attack. We must stand together and speak out in truth and freedom.”
The assembly’s bishops urged the pursuit of “a society in which Muslims and Christians and Jews are equal citizens, living side by side,” in which “new generations can live and prosper.”
They downplayed notions that Islamic extremism threatens only Christians.
“There is no doubt that the recent upheavals in the Middle East, initially called the Arab Spring, have opened the way for extremist groups and forces that, in the name of a political interpretation of Islam, are wreaking havoc in many countries, particularly in Iraq, Egypt and Syria.”
“There is no doubt that many of these extremists consider Christians as infidels, as enemies, as agents of hostile foreign powers or simply as an easy target for extortion,” the assembly continued. “However, in the name of truth, we must point out that Christians are not the only victims of this violence and savagery.”
The statement noted that moderate Muslims and those labeled heretical, schismatic, or non-conformist are also being attacked and murdered.
While Christians are sometimes targeted “precisely because they are Christians,” they are victims “alongside many others who are suffering and dying in these times of death and destruction.”
“They are driven from their homes alongside many others and together they become refugees, in total destitution.”
However, the assembly warned against selective use of the charge of persecution. They criticized using the word “persecution” only to refer to Christians suffering “at the hands of criminals claiming to be Muslim.”
This habit “plays into the hands of extremists, at home and abroad, whose aim is to sow prejudice and hatred, setting peoples and religions against one another.”
The assembly attributed the uprisings to desires for “a new age of dignity, democracy, freedom and social justice.” Christians had lived under “dictatorial regimes” that provided “law and order” at the “terrible price of military and police repression.” Christian fear of extremism and chaos led them to defend these regimes.
“Instead, loyalty to their faith and concern for the good of their country, should perhaps have led them to speak out much earlier, telling the truth and calling for necessary reforms, in view of more justice and respect of human rights, standing alongside both many courageous Christians and Muslims who did speak out,” the bishops said.
The bishops noted that Christians and Muslims should be aware that the outside world will not protect them, as local and international powers “seek their own interests.”
“We, alone, can build a common future together. We have to adapt ourselves to realities, even realities of death, and must learn together how to emerge from persecution and destruction into a new dignified life in our own countries.”
The bishops voiced their prayers both for their allies and for those “who are harming us now or even killing us.”
“We pray that God may allow them to see the goodness he has put in the heart of each one,” they said. “May God transform every human being from the depth of his or her heart, enabling them to love every human being as God does, He who is the Creator and Lover of all.”