Madrid, Spain, Dec 12, 2014 / 04:47 am America/Denver (CNA).
Fr. Gabriel Nadaf is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Church. He lives in Nazareth and faces death threats for publicizing the state of Christians in the Middle East.
Fr. Nadaf has a 24-hour security escort, the highest level of protection offered by Israeli authorities. However, during his recent trip to Spain, he told CNA that he is not afraid and has come “to make the voices of Christians in the East heard.”
“What is happening in the Middle East is genocide, and it is happening today, now,” Fr. Nadaf said. “Every five minutes, a Christian dies in the Middle East, and Muslim leaders know it.”
“I have been screaming this for years while the world remains silent,” he stressed, adding that the region is being “emptied of Christians, and that is where their faith was born.”
The persecution of Christians has drawn attention from Pope Francis in recent months and was the subject of “The Global War on Christians,” a 2013 book by noted Vatican analyst John Allen, who wrote that 11 Christians have been killed every hour, every day, for the past decade. Attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East has also risen with the escalation of ISIS.
Yet many advocates say there is still not enough awareness – or action – on behalf of the persecuted Christians, particularly those in the Middle East.
In response to this situation, Fr. Nadaf proposes that Christian leaders sign a clear declaration to confront the genocide.
“What they are doing is not enough. Something needs to be done to save them,” he said, including the sending of troops “to protect the Christians there.”
The priest said that Israel is one of the only Middle Eastern countries where Christians can live safely, despite being a minority within the minorities.
“In Israel, Christians are not killed, their churches are not burned, their female believers are not raped.” Christians must stay in Israel in order to strengthen their presence in the Middle East, he said.
“Even though Christians in Israel are a minority, we enjoy a high quality of life,” Father Nadaf continued. “But the most important thing is that we have a democracy and freedom of worship. When voices are raised against the state of Israel, this shows that there is a healthy democracy. Because in Islamic countries, which are located very close to us, the opposite happens.”
Although Israel is a country of limited geographical territory, its population is very diverse. It includes some 6 million Jews, 1.3 million Muslims and 160,000 Christians.
Israel recently decided to recognize Israeli Christians as a distinct ethnicity, rather than classifying them as Arabs or Palestinians. Fr. Nadaf said this new classification “gives Christians permission and rights for those who wish to return to their roots and their nationality. I am one of them.”
“The state of Israel grants rights to all of its citizens. What is missing is love between each other because we are still not united,” he continued.
Fr. Nadaf also reflected on his own faith and journey to the priesthood. Born in Nazareth, he went to Salesian Catholic schools.
“I have a great relationship with the Salesians because they taught me my values from childhood. There I discovered that I had to serve the Church and become a priest,” he said.
Even though his parents were against his desire to be a priest, Fr. Nadaf was ordained in 1995 in the Greek Orthodox Church. “At that time there were no young priests, I was the first and I was 22 years old. I put into practice what I learned at the Salesian schools with that spirit,” he recalled.