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Lebanon's Bishops Urge Christians to Stay
Make International Appeal

BEIRUT, Lebanon, AUG. 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The Maronite bishops of Lebanon are making an international appeal to help stop the exodus of Christians from their country, reports AsiaNews.

Auxiliary Bishop Guy-Paul Noujaim of Antioch said that the recent Israeli-Hezbollah conflict and the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism are pushing Christians out of Lebanon.

"These days a great number of Christians are joining the exodus. They feel abandoned," he said.

Bishop Noujiam has setup a crisis unit in his diocese to cope with the ongoing situation.

"On the eve of schools reopening, half of the population will be unable to send its children to private schools. And here in Lebanon public schools are unreliable," he said.

The prelate added that the fate of the elderly and the sick, "who can't find health care facilities for their needs," is an urgent problem that must be dealt with.

An appeal

Archbishop Paul Matar of Beirut also spoke to AsiaNews, pleading that "international organizations act quickly to help our people, weak in the face of this crisis, before the onset of winter."

The archbishop said that a mass flight of Christians is a real danger: "They want to leave the country not out of fear, but out of uncertainty for its future."

"It is necessary to start rebuilding this country, laid waste by fierce bombardments for weeks. Only this can help its citizens, Christians and Muslims, stay in Lebanon," he said.

Monsignor Georges Bakouni, Greek-Melkite metropolitan of Tyre, never left his diocese during the war between Israel and Hezbollah despite Israeli air strikes, which destroyed at least 15 churches.

He is asking Christians who were forced to flee in the last few weeks to "come home and show that Lebanon will not die," asserting that "[w]e shall never abandon Lebanon into the hands of Israel or the Muslims. We were here long before them and want to coexist with everyone."

Lebanon, which is considered the only place of refuge for Christians in the Middle East, and the one bridge between the "Muslim" East and "Christian" West, is now faced with the real possibility of losing its Christian population.

In the last official census dating back to 1932, the mostly Maronite Christians constituted 63% of the population. Muslims were around 35% and the other 2% belonged to smaller denominations. Today estimates put Christians at 32% of the population.