American Arabs by the numbers (popular estimates):
- America has a population of about 319 million people. (US Census)
- There are 4.5 million Arabs in America. (PEW Research Center uses unofficial Census Data, says there are only 1.8 million. The US Census estimated 511,000 Arab “households” in 2010. US National Arab American Museum estimates 4.2 million)
- There are 1 million non-Arab Middle East Christians in America. (Chaldean American Organizations estimate)
- There are 2.6 million (US Census) to 7 million Muslims (about 22 percent are Arab) (Muslim American organizations estimate)
- There are 51 million Roman Catholics in America (PEW Research Center, 2014)
- More than 70 percent or about 223 million Americans are Christian. (PEW Research Center 2014)
- Christian’s are 5 percent of the Middle East population (7.5 million of 150 million total ME Population. PEW Research Center).
- 1.2 billion Catholics in the World (The Vatican, 2012 Anuario Pontifico)
- 40 percent of Iraqi Refugees are Christian, (US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2014)
The majority of Arabs in America are Christian, mainly from Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Egypt.
American Arab Christians urge Pope to fight for their rights
(Published in Al Jazeera in Sept. 2015)
By Ray Hanania
Chicago, Illinois – American Arab and Middle East Christians urged Pope Francis to use his influence to rally U.S. public support of their rights during his six-day tour of this country next week.
The Pope arrives in Washington D.C. Tuesday, Sept. 22 to meet with President Barack Obama, and then address a Joint Session of U.S. Congress and later the UN General Assembly. The Pope will hold a public mass at Madison Square Garden and lead Catholic services in Philadelphia before leaving on Sunday, Sept. 27.
American Arab and Middle East Christians believe Pope Francis, the religious leader of more than 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide including 51 million in America, can influence American Christians to do more for Christians in the Middle East.
Leaders of the Arab and Middle East Christian community in the Midwest agreed it won’t be an easy task for the Pope. But they said that if anyone can do it, it is Pope Francis who has already shown sympathies for many of their issues and concerns.
Pope Francis will need to speak to both mainstream American Christians, they said, and to Middle East Christians who are ethnically and religiously divided. Many Middle East Christians are not Arab and the community diversity has created divisions.
Interviewed by Al Jazeera, Archpriest Nicholas Dahdal, Economos Pastor of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church located west of Chicago, called Pope Francis “a courageous man who is not afraid to speak out especially on issues of justice for people.”
Saying the challenge is to overcome the disconnect that exists between Christians in America and Christians in the Middle East, Dahdal said, “Unfortunately, Americans have no clue of what is going on in the Middle East. We need to educate the people especially the Christian Americans that as Christians their roots are in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Damascus, Beirut, Cairo and Alexandria.”
Dahdal, who immigrated from Taybeh in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank, has led protests in support of Palestinian human rights in Chicago.
“The Pope can send a strong message to American Christians that the Christians of the Middle East are your brothers and we need to protect them,” Dahdal said.
Dahdal urged Pope Francis to push the U.S. Congress “to treat people with dignity.”
Chorbishop Sharbel Maroun, a leading voice for Christian activism in America and pastor of St. Maron Maronite Catholic Church in Minneapolis, agrees.
“Most American Christians do not recognize their own connection to the Middle East. They have lost their connection with their roots and with the land of their ancestors,” said Chorbishop Maroun told Al Jazeera.
“The majority of Americans think the Middle East is Muslim. They fail to understand that Christianity was born there and that the Bible was spread from the Middle East to the world. American Christians in my opinion have not done enough to support their brothers and sisters in the Middle East, financially or spiritually.”
The Pope’s voice will resonate with Americans, Dahdal and Maroun believe. More than 70.6 percent of America’s 319 million population is Christian. American Roman Catholics, who look to the Pope for religious leadership, comprise the largest Christian denomination.
In contrast, the Christian population in the Middle East has dwindled to about 5 percent (in the Levant area of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Egypt). That’s still far more than the estimated 4.2 million Arabs in America, many of whom are Christian, which does not include non-Arab Middle East Christians, Arabs but who originate from the Middle East, including Chaldeans, Phoenicians and Assyrians.
(Chaldean American leaders say there are more than 150,000 Chaldeans in the Detroit region alone, not including Phoenicians and Assyrians.)
As a consequence, organizations representing Middle East and Arab Christians have weak voices in America. Mainstream Americans have broken their ties to Middle East Christians. Worse is that many mainstream American Christians discriminate against Middle East Christians and don’t see Arab Christians as being Christian at all, argued Dahdal and Maroun.
Jordanian Christian Mansour Tadros, publisher of the Chicago-based English-Arabic language newspaper The Future News, told Al Jazeera that what Pope Francis says will be heard by Christians in different ways because of the diversity and divisions in the Christian religions.
“The Pope is only one leader of a Christian faith that has many different denominations, although the Catholic Church is the largest,” Tadros observed.
“When the Pope speaks, the Christian World tends to listen. Middle East Christians are hoping that American Christians will hear his message and start speaking on behalf of Middle East Christian rights.”
In addition to pushing Israel to recognize Palestinian rights, Tadros said, the Pope must convince elected American officials to be less partisan towards Israel, more sympathetic to Arab concerns, and more willing to help refugees in Syria and Iraq, many of whom are Christian.
The same political forces suppressing Middle East and Arab Christian rights have set their sights on Pope Francis, too. They see a threat emerging if American Christians and Middle East Christians were to come together politically.
Pope Francis has come under fire for describing, last May, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as “an angel of peace,” and for officiating over the first-ever canonization of two Palestinian Nuns.
A month later, he formalized the Vatican’s 2012 recognition of Palestine as a State by signing an official treaty, the contents of which have yet to be made public.
The Pope’s actions immediately riled Israel’s leadership, but it gave Christian Arabs in America hope. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/06/vatican-fire-israel-deal-palestine-150626135224948.html
“I applaud the Pope for recognizing Palestine as a state. And, I applaud the Pope for stopping at the Segregation Wall built by Israel and to show the devilish face of the state of Israel,” Dahdal said.
Rateb Y. Rabie, President of the Washington D.C. based Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), told Al Jazeera the Pope’s actions show he has the power to refocus American Christians on the desperate plight Christians face throughout the Middle East.
“Fanaticism or extremism is the biggest challenge facing Christians in the Middle East today,” Rabie said.
“Christian communities are being wiped out in Iraq and Syria. ISIL is the victimizer. Copts in Egypt have gone through episodes of discrimination. Palestinian Christians are caught between a rock and a wall.”
Rabie said challenges facing Middle East Christians also include the difficulty of emigration, and the lack of adequate housing or funding for education.
“Middle East Christians are on the horns of a dilemma, trying to be true to their heritage, culture, surrounding on one hand and struggling to survive on the other hand,” Rabie said. “It is a nightmare from which they are desperate to awake.”
Amir Denha, publisher of the Chaldean Detroit Times, urged Pope Frances to speak out more forcefully on what he said is the popular view that the Arab and Islamic World also have done little to protect Middle East Christians and confront rising religious extremism.
“I think so far Pope Francis has done a lot. He is the Pope. The whole world is listening to him. But there is still more he needs to do,” Denha, who immigrated to America from Baghdad in 1943, told Al Jazeera.
“The Pope can force the Arab governments in the Middle East and the Islamic World to condemn what ISIL has done to Middle East Christians more effectively. The voices of the Arab governments on this issue have been weak. They have not done enough.”
Denha said Pope Francis can also push America to do more for Middle East refugees.
“American Christians will listen to the Pope. But he needs to speak out more and he needs to be more inclusive (of all the Middle East Christian denominations),” Denha said.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American newspaper writer and author based in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“Chorbishop” is a rank of the Christian clergy below the title of “bishop.”