Pope Benedict XVI’s coming to Lebanon is an attempt to reassure generations of resident Christians into not leaving.
Lebanon is unusual as an ancestral land of believers in Jesus, where most people in the region today follow Mohammed.
The constitution enshrines freedom to practise various definitions of faith.
Beirut’s Rafik Hariri airport is seeing Christians flock in from around the Middle East.
In the arrivals hall, Palestinian bishop Elias Chakkour said: “We love to come to Lebanon because it is hospitable, and to welcome his holiness the Pope. We are here with a group of priests from Haifa and the Holy Land.”
Soheil Khoury, a priest from Jordan, said: “We came to be with the Pope because his visit to Lebanon and this region is very important and is a historic event which concerns the whole Middle East, and, we hope, will revive all of it.”
Lebanon has 13 different Christian church communities. The biggest is the Maronites. The president is one of them. Before the 1975 to 1990 civil war they were bigger. Their influence and number have dropped. All over the Middle East Christians have been moving away from violence.
The region has 13-15 million Christians, Lebanon 1.6 million; 80 years ago more than half the country was Christian, now it is 35 percent.
In warring Syria it is 15 percent, with more than one million.
Egypt’s eight million Christians make up ten percent of the whole population, but are feeling increasingly threatened.
There used to be more Christians in Iraq as well, more than one million before the US invasion in 2003.
Then some 550,000 of one of the world’s oldest Christian communities left there, under pressure from extreme Islamists and increasingly deadly violence from abduction, torture and bombings.
The same seems to be happening in Syria today, with some reports saying that 90 percent of the Christians of Homs have been driven out since last year. Rebels accuse them of supporting the Assad regime.